Monday, November 5, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Genesis 3:14-15 (Why did God curse the serpent?)


As I mentioned in a previous post, the idea of Satan turning into a talking animal has long been a strange idea to think about for me. I've already talked about why I choose to believe this encounter literally happened as written, but I'm still left asking myself about the nature of this transformation, and why it is God seems to be condemning a species of animal with no free will that at most was somehow hijacked by Satan to carry out his evil agenda.

It's not very common for biblical commentaries and study aids to address this question, but after doing some research and listening to a few responses to the issue, I've arrived at a conclusion that satisfies me. (Though I'd love to hear your thoughts on this if they differ from mine.)

God is God. He created everything and everyone. He's not just the owner, he's the maker. He is entitled to do whatever he wants with whatever he makes. (Romans 9:21) He is entitled to curse the ground for Adam's sin (Gen. 3:17) or curse serpents, one of them or all of them, because of Satan's sin. (Gen. 3:14)

If this still feels "unjust" in some way, then after further attempting to correct our perspective on God's rights, we should consider the following.

1. I've never once heard a serpent complain that they have been treated unjustly. They're doing as well as any other animal in this fallen world, and the whole curse issue seems pretty far over their oblivious heads. In short, they do not feel as though they have been wronged. They are content, if they can even feel something like our concept of "contentment".

2. These curses are not "compensation" for wrongdoing. If they were, the cosmic scales would be balanced and we would have no need for any future justice to be dispensed from God. Given the clear teaching of a future time of judgment, we know this isn't the case. (Acts 10:42, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Peter 4:5)

If not compensation, then what are these curses for?

In part, they are consequences (which differ from compensation), and in part I've concluded that they are teaching tools set in place by God, which remain to remind generation after generation of our sin problem, and also God's promised solution to it.

Which brings us to the curse on the serpent itself. Let's attempt to pick this apart a little more. The first part of the curse reads:

"on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life."(ESV)

By far the most popular assumption here is that serpents once walked on legs of some kind, and that the curse removed their legs and forced them to crawl on their bellies as we see serpents do today.
I don't have any problem with this assumption. God brought about other significant physical changes as a result of sin, such as the curse on the ground and the increased pain in childbirth. (Genesis 3:16-17) However I wonder if the text requires serpents to have had legs before this curse, and how much of this curse is directed at both the serpent as a species and Satan, who took a serpent's form.

A serpent on its belly is not as threatening as a serpent raised and poised to strike. (This was also common knowledge in ancient Egypt, where the author of Genesis was raised and educated). So it may be that God simply made the serpent, which already had no legs, less powerful or apt to strike somehow. It wouldn't be hard to believe that Satan was also cursed to have less power after this encounter. So a "removal of legs" for the serpent doesn't seem to be the only plausible scenario here.

Dust was also closely related with death and the netherworld in ancient Egypt. (Which may be why the author made a point of mentioning Adam's fate to become dust.) Serpents don't thrive off a diet of dust by any means. But their proximity to the ground means they are bound to digest their share of dust throughout life. Of course as curses go, eating a little dust now and then isn't so bad. Which is why I again am persuaded that the symbolism of dust is important here as it pertains to Satan. God seems to be telling Satan that his domain is one of death and hopelessness. He is meant to live knowing that he has already lost his battle with God and death is his path and destiny.

The second half of the serpent's curse reads:

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."(ESV)

Obviously we can all relate to the antagonism that naturally exists between humans and serpents. They strike at our legs and we bash in their heads. It's an "understood arrangement" we've had with them for ages. (And one more reason I'm an "indoor nerd", preferring giant-sized fictional snakes over teeny tiny real ones.)

Like serpents, Satan and those who follow him are the enemies of humanity as well. But unfortunately we can't bash in their heads. They are too strong for us, too elusive. Thankfully, there was one human who bashed in the heads of Satan and his servants once and for all.

Satan "bruised the heel" of Jesus by moving men to crucify him, but Jesus crushed Satan and his power over humanity by using the cross to pay for our sins and balance the scales of justice on our behalf. Genesis 3:15 has long been understood as the first prophecy regarding the Messiah.

So I've concluded that, without abusing the serpents of the world, God used them to timelessly describe our enemy, illustrate for us our need for a savior, and set the stage for Jesus, who has defeated evil on our behalf once and for all. The battle is over, sentencing has been passed. Now it's only a matter of time before justice is carried to completion.

Next Time- A look at the consequences of sin for humanity

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