A Little Dialogue Regarding a Nasty Snake
One of my favorite portions of the Bible surrounds creation week (Gen 1-3). Even when that is not a primary text that I have been studying, I will find my thoughts drifting back to the beginning of all things. I suppose I must give some credit to Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham for the way his ministry has helped shape my own since the summer of 2005. I should also add that the work of Cornelius Van Til and his excellent pupil Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen has also added to my understanding of just how important the phrase “in the image of God” (Gen 1.26, 28) truly is.
God made mankind (male and female; a biological state that cannot be altered or maligned post conception) as the primary recipients of His grace. Yes, this was before the fall and all the nasty consequences of that event (Gen 3); things that we see evidence of all around us, as well as, what we must wrestle with in our inner being (post-salvation in Jesus Christ; cf. Rom 7.21-25) as we seek to live by the Spirit of God (Gal 5.16-17).
It is along this particular vein of thought that I would like to share—in writing—some of my musings over the past couple of weeks. No, no I’m not speaking about election results, questions of fraud, and the great push we are experiencing by the Media, Tech Companies, and those other elites that plague our society (well, not directly anyway). What I want to talk about is the Serpent in the garden and Adam’s lackluster response to it.
Where was Adam?…
Often I have encountered the curious student asking, “Where was Adam at when the Serpent was questioning his wife? Why wasn’t he near her? If he was near her why didn’t he speak up?” Well, the thing is Adam was with his wife when the Serpent questioned her as may be seen in Gen 3:6.
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her and he ate” (NASB; emphasis added).
Adam and Eve were in the garden minding their own business when a Serpent came over for a conversation. Acting, oh so innocent, the Serpent seemingly starts up a conversation with the woman. He says to her, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Gen 3.1b). The woman replies ever so politely to this “beast of the field” (Gen 3.1a) “No, no that’s not quite right. You see the Lord only applied a restriction to one tree; the tree in the middle of the garden.” That’s a paraphrase of the text. The verse more accurately reads like so,
“From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die” (Gen 3.2-3).
Some make a big deal about how she depicts her husband Adam’s words here, but since we weren’t there for the conversation it is likely that is how they understood God’s prohibition. For there is no question that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was off limits to our foreparents (cf. Gen 2.16-17). To not “touch it” seems a foregone conclusion. Why play with something you can’t have?
The Serpent quickly replies to Eve, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.4-5). What is the Serpent saying here? (Understanding this will aid the reader in understanding my position about to be given).
First, the Serpent is saying, “God is lying.” Ironic really when you think about it for it is the Serpent who is sharing misinformation here, not the Lord God. But here we are reading about the Serpent saying that what God said was not right at all.
Second, the Serpent promises that the opposite will happen. To eat that fruit is not death but life. Moreover, if the fruit is eaten, then the eater will become like the Creator knowing (i.e., determining) good and evil.
And so, in verse 6 we are introduced to the thought process of the woman. In an attempt to ascertain the truth for herself she investigates more closely the fruit on the tree in the middle of the garden. She sees that like the other trees in the garden (which she is allowed to eat; see Gen 2.16) this tree is “pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen 3.6a; compare with Gen 2.9), and as an added bonus this one carries the possibility of “mak[ing] one wise.”
At this point we are told that she and her husband (with her) ate from the forbidden tree. The question is “Why?” Not why did they eat from that which God said, “NO!” But, why did Adam stand around playing with a blade of grass as his wife carried this conversation on with the Serpent? Why did he allow her to entertain the possibility that what their Creator had spoken was inaccurate, but what the Serpent was saying might have a kernel of truth?
“Well, what else could he have done,” you ask? I don’t know…KILL IT! He could have torn a branch off a nearby tree and started beating it to death! “But…but killing is wrong,” you say. “Taking the life of another one of God’s creatures is never permissible!” you incredulously exclaim.
A Brief Word Study…
Why was Adam in the garden? What was his purpose for being there? What are we told earlier in the text that helps shed light on this issue?
“The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed…Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2.8, 15).
Adam’s purpose in the garden was 1) “to cultivate it,” and 2) “[to] keep it.” Okay, what does that mean? John H. Sailhamer points out some of the faults with English Versions of the Bible when translating from the original Hebrew is that the text reads this way, rather than “to worship and to obey.”1 He notes that given the context following v. 15, in vv.16-17, this prohibition regarding the Tree of Knowledge’s fruit makes more sense, while also removing some of the exegetical difficulties that some readers face.2
Looking a little closer at the original Hebrew we find that “cultivate” (abad) shares “several Semitic roots, e.g. the old Aramaic root which means ‘to do or make,’ and Arabic root meaning ‘to worship, obey’ (God) and its intensive stem meaning ‘to enslave, reduce to servitude.’ This service may be directed toward things, people, or God.”3 When we get to the Hebrew term for “keep” (shamar) we find that it carries various connotations that stress: to keep, to guard, keep watch and ward, protect, to act as a watchman, or to save one’s life.4
So, what do we learn after this brief word study? That God had placed the man in the garden for a specific purpose and it wasn’t picking weeds. He was expected to exercise godly dominion (Gen 1.26, 28) by serving the Lord in his day to day activity and this means Adam was required to listen (obey) God’s word. He was responsible not only for his own personal self-government, but also in leading his wife in the way of truth. Keeping guard over what the Lord had given him.
Did he do that? No. Rather than listen to God’s voice, His creator, he listened to the creatures voice (Gen 3.17); which, was by extension the voice of the Serpent.
Time to Kill a Snake: Why?
“Okay, but why do you say he should have killed the Serpent. I get what your saying up to that point, but killing anything seems to be a violation of God’s Holy Word.”
Here’s my response: As the writer of Ecclesiastes pointed out,
“There is an appointed time for everything, and there is a time for every event under heaven…a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace” (Eccl 3.1, 3a, 8).
Do you not know that God praised the action of running an Israelite man and Midianite woman through with a javelin in the middle of their copulating (cf. Numb 25.1-8)?
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Phineas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My Jealousy” (Numb 25.10-11).
Quick history lesson…
Phineas was blessed by the Lord for his faithfulness, and his family inherited that blessing (Numb 25.12-13). What blessing might Adam and his offspring have experienced if he had walked in a similar fashion to Phineas? What might the Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, said to His creature if he had been as jealous for the Lord’s glory?
Adam should have run the Serpent through in the garden. He should have stood for the Lord, for his wife and his children. Either way death was going to enter in through the test in the garden. Unfortunately, for us the death that entered was the curse of sin (separation from a right relationship with our Creator), rather than its destruction (i.e., killing of the Serpent).
A Reminder for us all…
Thankfully, that was not the end of the story. Christ Jesus the one who refused to compromise (think in the wilderness, Matt 4.1-11; in the garden, Luke 23.39-46; before the cross (John 19. ). We are called to do the same. There is no room for compromise. That is where Adam and Eve failed. She compromised with the Serpent over the knowledge that she had received from God via her husband (helpmate). He compromised with his wife over the truth he had been told by God. And we are guilty of how many more in our lives?
Let us put to death sin in our lives. Let us put to death false notions of goodness and righteousness that have an appearance of holiness, of goodness, of love, but are false standards established by wrongheaded people. Let us put to death compromising our faith in favor of false peace. That last one is ripe with meaning in our day and age, but if we know our history this is not the first time when we have been promised false peace, safety and security at the hands of sinful people. Better to trust in the Word of the Lord, than the word of men (perhaps a not so indirect reference to our current sociopolitical climate here in the United States).
1John H. Sailhamer, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Vol. 2, Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1990), 45.
2Compare the reading of Gen 2:16-17 with the later promise given in Deut 30:15-16:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”
And Deut 30:19-20:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live….”
3James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995), sv. Abad (cultivate or serve), Logos 8 Bible software. Stephen D. Renn writes “abad is a common verb found about three hundred times with the predominant sense of ‘serve,’ but it occasionally indicates the associated meaning ‘worship.’” Stephen D. Renn, ed., Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 1066-1067.
4F. Brown, S. Driver and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Reprint 1906 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 1036, sv. Shamar (keep). Stephen D. Renn writes, “This common verb form occurs around five hundred times and is translated ‘keep,’ ‘guard,’ ‘protect,’ as well as a number of related meanings. In about twenty places, however, shamar is used nominally to indicate a ‘keeper,’ ‘guard,’ or ‘protector.”” Notably, Renn adds that this Hebrew verb “also has the sense of ‘obey,’ primarily with reference to keeping God’s law and statutes.” Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, 553, 549 respectively.