************ Sermon on Genesis 3:1-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 17, 2010
"The First Question"
On TV and in newspapers we have all seen the rescue of the 33 miners who were trapped in an underground mine for more than two months in Chile. Let me tell you another side of the story that most of you did not see. It is a sad story of intrigue, envy and rivalries.
The feuds and jealousies centered on such matters as who got to take part in weekend video-conferences with the miners, who received letters and why – or even who should speak to the media and how much they should be revealing about a family's life. In some cases, distant relatives – seeking the international media limelight – gave interviews about trapped miners they barely know. There also are those who, despite only distant blood ties to miners, lined up for donated gifts including lingerie, bottles of wine, electronic toys, and Halloween costumes. There were even fights over who constitutes a close relative. Then there is the question of money. It has already strained relations between families as some seem to be getting more than others.
The Devil sure was busy turning Camp Hope into a spawning ground of jealousy and rivalry.
This morning, we see the same Devil busy at work, already, in the Garden of Eden.
I The Crafty Serpent
A Satan appears frequently in both the Old and New Testaments. Yet, for all of the descriptions of Satan's activity in Scripture, very little is said about Satan's origin or appearance. The Bible never depicts the Devil with horns and a tail. Nor is it the Bible that gives him the name Lucifer.
So, what do we know about the Devil? We know he is God's Devil; that is, he was made by God and never operates outside of God's providence. Although he is very powerful, Satan is nothing but a finite creature who is NOT the Lord's equal. Like everything else, Satan was originally part of what God called "very good" (Gen 1:31). We also know that Satan is an angel that has fallen from grace; though how Satan could fall when there was no evil present in God's good creation is a great mystery. Many believe Satan's fall is pictured in passages like Isaiah 14:12-20 and Ezekiel 28:1-10.
The Bible teaches that Satan is the enemy of God and His people. It is always his intent to harm the covenant community, lead people astray, and do what he can to take away from God's glory. From beginning to end (Gen 3 & Rev 20), the Bible is clear that evil is not an impersonal force but the work of personal beings – the Devil and his servants.
B Genesis 3 features the first appearance of Satan in Scripture. We see him working through a serpent to tempt Eve and introduce sin and evil into the life of mankind. We are not told that Satan uses the serpent – we simply infer it from Genesis 3:15.
We should not be surprised by the appearance of Satan, sin, and evil. As far as the original audience of Moses is concerned, there are all sorts of hints prior to Genesis 3 that something like this might happen. Put yourself in the place of the Hebrews. They have just been rescued from Egypt; they are traveling through the wilderness; and, they are on their way to the Promised Land. They are listening to the reading of Genesis for the first time. They read their situation and their understanding into what Moses writes.
Do you remember the beginning of creation? The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep. Chaos. That is what we see. And darkness – in the light of sin, this is a Hebrew and Biblical symbol for evil. Which is why there is no night in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:25).
Remember what God made on Day Three? God made the gathered waters that He called "seas." The seas. In the Ancient World the seas were a place of unrest, constant movement, never still. The seas were considered the abode of evil. And, in the Revelation, do you remember what comes from the sea? The beast that persecutes the faithful people of God (Rev 13). Take note, too, that in the new heaven and new earth the sea is no more – a statement that evil and the abode of evil is no more (Rev 21:1). Think, also, of what God ordered the seas to do in the Exodus from Egypt. God ordered the seas to form walls so the children of Israel could walk safely through the sea on dry ground – have you ever thought of how terrifying it must have been to walk in the wild, restless sea; then, God ordered the seas to drown Pharaoh and his army. No, the sea was not a nice place; it was a scary and a terrifying place.
According to the Jewish rabbis, the land was disobedient on Day Six of creation. To understand this, let's go back to Day Three of creation. On Day Three, God commanded the land to produce vegetation. So, the land produced vegetation. On Day Six, God commanded the land to produce living creatures. But, however, we are told it was God – not the land – who made the wild animals, the livestock, and all the creatures that move along the ground.
Finally, consider the final comment of Genesis 2: "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Gen 2:25). With the exception of this verse, nakedness in the Old Testament is always connected with some form of humiliation.
Keeping all of this in mind, the children of Israel were not surprised by the appearance of Satan and sin and evil in Genesis 3. As I already said, they read their situation and their awareness of sin into all of this.
C Now, let's look at the serpent. Have you ever thought about the serpent of Genesis 3? We are given way more information about the serpent than appears at first glance. First, when all the animals passed before him, Adam gave it the name "serpent" – which comes from a Hebrew root meaning both "shiny" and "enchanting" – telling us Adam's gut reaction to the serpent; and, remember, whatever name given by Adam was exactly the right name (Gen 2:19). Second, Scripture puts it in the category of "wild animals" – in other words, it was not a bird nor was it livestock. Third, the serpent was able to talk – which also implies the ability to think and reason. Fourth, in view of the later curse put on the snake to crawl on its belly (Gen 3:14), it is possible the snake had two legs and stood upright like the first man and woman so that it could talk as an equal; if not upright, then it stood on four or six legs (or more); which means we can forget the Sunday School pictures of the serpent hanging from a branch on the tree as it talked to Eve. Fifth, the serpent was rejected as a suitable helper and companion for the man despite its ability to speak and think (and maybe stand upright). Sixth, like all the other creatures, the serpent was made by God.
More than one person wonders why the first temptation comes from a serpent rather than another animal. Serpents are prominent in many myths of the ancient Near East, and they are widely regarded as both attractive and dangerous – remember, "serpent" means shiny and enchanting. In the Ancient World, serpents are seen as mobile digestive tracts that swallow its prey whole; in this sense, the serpent stands for pure appetite. At the same time, the serpent is cold, steely-eyed, and unblinking; in this respect it is the image of pure attentiveness and icy calculation. His slithering, sinuous, and utterly silent movements also suggest cunning. Which, by the way, is the one characteristic singled out by our text.
Scripture says "the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made" (Gen 3:1). The Hebrew word for "crafty" is not necessarily something bad. The God-fearing person who uses this quality for good is called "prudent" by Proverbs (Prov 12:16). In the serpent's case, this quality is used for evil.
The Hebrew word for "crafty" is a pun on the Hebrew word for "naked" found in the last verse of Genesis 2. They both come from the same root which means smooth. The naked person is smooth because he or she is without clothes. The pun suggests that someone who is crafty is also smooth – a smooth talker, a quick thinker, someone whose speech is beguiling and silky; we all have met people like this, haven't we?
II The Serpent's Question
A The serpent said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1).
What kind of question is this? Surely not a question seeking the truth. Rather, it intends to call into question God's authority, God's command, and God's goodness.
By asking this question, the serpent introduces a couple of sinful things to the woman. First, he introduces the idea of need – the need for food that may be denied; hunger. In the well-appointed Garden, man and woman had no needs; everything they needed was provided by God. Now, along comes the serpent and asks, "You must not eat from any tree?" Second, the serpent introduces the idea of truth and falsehood and error. "Did God really say?"
Notice how the serpent paints God: as the sort of being Who denies man access to all the trees; as the sort of being, then, Who denies man access to the food that originally was given to man as food (Gen 2:16). The serpent tries to change the first man's view of God as good and loving and caring. Suddenly the woman is being led to doubt God, His providence, His love, His care. All by one simple question. What a smooth-talking snake!
B Listen as the woman responds to the crafty words of the serpent:
(Gen 3:2-3) "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, (3) 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.'"
Wrong answer! What kind of answer is this? So you can see this, let me ask, what is the correct answer? What answer should the woman have given?
(Gen 3:1) "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"There is only one correct answer: "NO. No, God did not say that. No, God did not say 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden.'"
Also, she did not say, "God said that we may eat fruit from the trees in the Garden." She did not say, "God gave us the fruit of the trees of the Garden." Instead she said, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden ..." Notice what she leaves out or Whom she leaves out? Suddenly, God is no longer part of the equation. Suddenly, the trees of the Garden are no longer part of God's bounty and God's care. Just like that, the serpent's question leads her away from God and to an entitlement attitude.
Following the lead of the serpent, she also turns God into a naysayer. Indeed, she goes the serpent one better, making God into a double naysayer: "you must not eat"; "you must not touch."
From where did the woman get the double prohibition, the double negative? Now, remember, the woman was not present when God told Adam what he could and could not eat. So, the man must have told her. But what did he tell her? Is it Adam who added the second negative – you must not touch? Or, is this an addition by the woman? Or, is this based on a misunderstanding? Did a lion roar when Adam first said this so the woman did not hear it correctly?
However it came about, do you see what I see? Do you see man's first attempt to put a fence around the law? To make sure the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is not eaten a rule is made up that the Tree should not even be touched. Kind of reminds me of what the Pharisees did with the Sabbath – they put a fence around the Sabbath that included 1521 different rules. A mostly positive command – you are free to eat, keep the Sabbath – is quickly turned into something negative.
C Now, listen carefully to the serpent's response to the woman's response:
(Gen 3:4-5) "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. (5) "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."Hear what the serpent really says? First, "God is a liar." The serpent emphasizes this. His first word is NOT. "Not you will die." "NOT" should have been the woman's first word but now it is Satan's first word. Second, Satan says, "God is jealous. He does not want to share His special privileges with humans."
The serpent does not exactly lie; but neither does he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Satan is correct: man does not die on the day that he eats from the Tree; but, he does die eventually. Man's eyes are opened; but, they only show him his own weakness and sin. Man has become like God in one way; but, in countless other ways he is not like God.
D See how clever the serpent is? How crafty? How cunning? As a tool of the Devil the serpent wants to harm the covenant community, lead people astray, and do what he can to take away from God's glory.
I want to tell you, I need to tell you, that the Devil is the same way today. Like a tiger does not change it stripes or a leopard its spots, so the Devil does NOT change his hatred for God and His people. As we will find out with the story of Cain and Abel, his goal is sin crouching at your door (Gen 4:7). He desires to have you and to control you (Gen 4:7). As the song puts it:
Christian do you struggle on the battleground,
'gainst the powers of darkness closing in around?
Christian, do you battle Satan's power within,
all his striving, luring, tempting you to sin?
Do you struggle, do we struggle? Of course you do! Of course I do! Of course we all do! In the story of the serpent and Eve we are to see our own story and our own struggle with sin and temptation.
There is only one defense against such a sly and cunning enemy: the cross of Christ. It is only the cross that defeats the serpent and allows us victory.
III The Missing Man
Now, what is missing from our story of the serpent and the woman? What don't we see? Or, whom don't we see? We don't see the man! Where is he? Shouldn't he be there?
Remember how I ended the sermon on woman's creation? I said the husband is the head of the wife. Because he comes first. Because he names the woman. Because the woman comes from man, not man from the woman.
If the man is head, how come he isn't there to protect his woman? How come he doesn't say the "NO" the woman should first have said? How come he doesn't correct the woman's double negative? How come he doesn't say, "Honey, you are wrong in what you said"? Where is the man? Where is Adam in all of this?
Let me say something controversial. The first man let the first woman down! Even as many husbands today continue to let their wives down. I cannot tell you the number of homes in which the man fails to correct his wife, or fails to protect his wife, or fails to stop his wife. That's his job as spiritual head. But he is nowhere to be seen.
As Christian husbands and wives, we are engaged in a battle; but not against each other. As Christian husbands and wives, we are engaged in a battle against the powers of darkness and the forces of evil. Our own homes and families and marriages and churches are under attack by Satan. Will the men stand up and do what they are supposed to be doing?
Keep two things in mind. First, the Devil is sly and cunning; don't ever underestimate him. Second, Jesus is stronger than the Devil and in Him the Devil is defeated and the church is kept safe.
Here is a reminder that in the whole history of the human race, there is only One Husband Who jealousy guards and protects His wife. There is only One Husband Who is the perfect Head of His wife. I am talking, of course, of Jesus. He is the jealous bridegroom and the church is His cherished and protected bride.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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