The Journey Ep 5: Nature of the Serpent.
Note: This is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. Read Part One of this look at Genesis 3 here. You can read my series introduction here. Just remember, I am not a Biblical scholar, I’m just a fat guy in his pajamas (it’s actually just an old tee short and gym shorts) thinking out loud.
(All Bible quote are NIV and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
Last week I posed the possibility it was no accident that it was Eve, not Adam, who took the first bite of the forbidden fruit. I also discussed my thoughts that the fruit might actually symbolize the most pivotal of all questions, the gateway to all knowledge – “Why?” Was the serpent required in this act and was this creature necessarily evil? Would mankind have eventually eaten the fruit on their own? Did God even intend for humanity to eventually partake in the tree of knowledge?
Let’s pick up where we left off in Genesis 3…
8 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. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (NIV)
There are a few side-discussions in this passage worth noting. This is the first time the woman is referred to as Adam’s “wife.” I think this is no accident, as their roles had suddenly and dramatically changed with the consumption of the forbidden fruit. They see themselves naked and they understood the concept of sin. Prior, they were like two children, now they are two naked adults, with all the sexual baggage and roles that go with being a grown-up.
I’m also curious as what is meant by “Cool of the day”? I must admit, I did some research here to find out what others thought. There are several ways to interpret the original language, from “wind storm” to “cool of the evening,” to “late afternoon near sunset.” I think it all depends on how you want to imagine how God makes his entrance into the Garden. Does he storm in or stroll in nonchalantly? God’s relationship with Adam and the woman to this point has been a direct, personal relationship. God has been a parent.
Let me ask the reader a question: In what manner did your mother or father enter your room when they had discovered you had done something wrong? Perhaps that is how the reader should interpret this scene.
It occurs to me “cool of the day” may also indicate the end of the day, such as early evening. I picture this happening on Day 6 or maybe Day 7, when God has completed his work or is about to complete it. He is beginning to relax and enjoy the fruits of his labor. Keep this thought in mind because I’m going to revisit it.
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (NIV)
I find it hard to believe God didn’t know all of this would happen, being that he is God. So why the theatrics? Once again, this is pretty much how a concerned parent would react, thereby cementing God’s relationship with humanity as that of divine father. Why not mother? I don’t know, but my father scared the hell out of me when I knew I was in trouble.
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
"She made me do it!” Oh, so now she’s not “wife,” just “the woman you put here with me.” Sure, I see where this is going.
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (NIV)
The woman tells the truth. The man and woman’s responses to God are exactly what one would expect from a child confronted by a parent. What happens next is, as far as I can tell, the first three instances in the Bible of God’s Divine Judgement. God addresses the serpent, woman and man in that order.
14 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. 15 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.” (NIV)
God directly curses the serpent. Supposedly, this is why snakes crawl and women hate them and why men kill them. This is one of those “And that’s why…” ‘mythic-esque’ instances in the Bible, which are rare and only exist in Genesis. This brings me back to a few of those questions about the serpent I asked in the last episode.
Based on this passage we can draw four conclusions about the serpent's existence prior to God’s curse: 1) It was explicitly created by God and therefore belonged in the garden, 2) It was a wild animal and therefore of this world, and 3) it was “crafty,” 4) Oh, and it talked. Of course, snakes don’t do that now but being rendered mute wasn’t one of God’s curses.
Many other creation myths include talking critters, which often represent otherworldly spirits. However, nowhere else in the Bible do earthly wild animals talk. Perhaps the serpent is more than just a wild animal, maybe it exists simultaneously in the earthly and spiritual realms. I think that makes sense because Eden itself seems to exist in both realms simultaneously. Let’s look at the serpent’s behavior.
The serpent made a choice to disobey God and tempt the woman. Did it already have free will? Had it already tasted the forbidden fruit, or was it created with that inherent knowledge? Does the serpent represent some ultimate evil or is it just a mischievous interloper? I don’t think so. Once again, the scripture is clear – it is created by God, and crafty does not necessarily mean evil.
GEEK ALERT: The serpent is of this world, and not of this world. It is a symbol, like the two trees, of natural forces that power the universe, and yet transcend it. I believe the snake represents Chaos, or perhaps more accurately Possibility. I could go into a long dissertation of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Chaos Theory, determinism versus initial conditions, and a lot of other stuff that I am in no way qualified to talk about but think is cool. Let’s just call it the “Sh…(u-uhm) Stuff Happens Effect."
What I am about to say, I say with deep reverence and awe. I believe God programmed the universe with, to use a computer programming term, a randomizer function. In other words, God had to build dice into the machine called Creation. I think he did this because it was the only way the universe would work. The serpent represents the engine of possibility. It’s like the plutonium that drives the reactor of existence – powerful, necessary and sometimes deadly. I believe God purposely made something he couldn’t control, or at least he chooses not to directly control. He is a God of Laws, and to interfere with the Engine of Possibility would, I believe, break the universe.
Eve’s “Why?” was quickly followed by “Why did this have to happen?”
No matter how well we lay our plans, no matter how careful we are, Stuff Happens. Horrible things often happen to good people, and I truly believe God has nothing to do with it. God is in charge, but must keep his hands off the gears. The serpent is not necessarily evil, it is the chance for evil. This is the root of God’s cursing the snake.
Going back to my point from Episode 4, God could have placed places both trees anywhere else, hidden from mankind’s sight and reach. Instead, he placed the trees front and center. I’m going to go out on a limb (get it, a “limb”?), but perhaps somewhere in God’s plan, Adam and Eve were destined to eat of the fruits, but at the time and place of God’s choosing. The serpent struck first. God rolled the dice, and Eve took a bite. For that first choice, humanity had to pay a price. God was pissed, and I think that is true meaning of this first curse against the snake.
So, what did the serpent get out of all this? Nothing. It is only a force of nature, a mysterious curve along which all possibilities exist at once…
…which brings me back to the “cool of the day” point I made earlier. What if Eve’s bite was the last act in God’s creation of the Universe? In Eden, we witness the universe completed, but static – a Newtonian shell waiting for humanity’s first choice to set the gears in motion. The serpent waited there, hiding in the branches of the tree, waiting to strike. It only needed someone to come along and turn possibility into probability with the act of a sentient decision.
It was Eve’s question that set the gears of the Universe in motion and completed God’s plan in the evening of the Sixth Day. In that first spark of Time, Death entered the Garden of Eden and history truly began. Now mankind must wander the wilderness in the shadow of the Tree of Good and Evil. The Serpent is still here, hiding in the weeds of our poor choices and random events, ready to strike our heel or hand.
God is here, too, giving us strength and comfort to carry on another day. It is through us, and our choices, that God influences the ultimate outcome of mankind’s journey back to the Tree of Life.
I'm not finished with Genesis 3 yet. What truly are the two trees of Eden? What are the curses God levied against both man and woman? More on that in the third and final installment in my exploration of Genesis 3.
Brian Braden is the author the book THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books.
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