Monday, August 22, 2016

Curses and Commendations-The Judgment and Mercy of a Holy God-Gen. 4:9-16

In a court of law, some cases are easier to prove than others. The evidence yielded by the investigation, the quality of the prosecuting attorney, and the resolve of the judge to render the proper verdict make all the difference. The same would prove true in the capital murder case against Cain in Genesis 4:9-16. The only difference is, in this trial, God would both lead the investigation, bring the charges as prosecutor, and render the verdict as judge.

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In most trials, the more compelling the case against a murderer is, the harsher the judgment proves. However, this case yields some surprisingly merciful activity. Let us take a look at four things God does in his first courtroom appearance in Genesis 4:9-16.

God Tries Cain-4:9-10

Following the terrible crime committed by Cain in 4:1-8 comes the investigation—“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’” (4:9a). Again, as in the questions God raised earlier for Cain (see “Why are you angry?” in verse 6) and the inquiries He made of Adam and Eve (“Where are you?” and “Who told you that you were naked?” in 3:8-10), this question is not intended to inform God of something He does not already know; it is intended to give the recipients of these questions an opportunity to confess and begin to deal with their sin.

Though Adam in chapter 3 fesses up to the sin he committed (albeit after he tries to blame it on others), there is no such admission of guilt in Cain. Instead, Cain compounds his culpability by lying about his brother’s whereabouts saying “I do not know” and then attempts to elude the question and absolve himself of responsibility for Abel by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9b).

Nobody is ever charged with the responsibility of being “his brother’s keeper” as Scripture never tells God’s people to “keep” their brothers. The verb “keep” is, in fact, nearly exclusively used of God in describing his relationship to Israel. He is Israel’s keeper and as such never slumbers or sleeps (Ps. 121:4-8). For God, to “keep” means not only to preserve and sustain but to control, regulate, and exercise authority over. Therefore, for Cain to recuse himself from Abel in this way is wholly inappropriate. It is a desperate attempt to distance himself from being responsible for Abel’s whereabouts (Hamilton, 231).

Here, Cain reveals that he is not only a murderer; he is a liar, evasive, and indifferent. It would seem as though the proclivity toward sin has not only been passed down to the next generation (from Adam to his children), it has grown more acute as the human condition continues to devolve.

In verse 10, God attempts to confront Cain again, only this time, it is as a prosecutor, not an investigator as before (see verse 9), saying—“What have you done?” (4:10a). Here, God is not so much seeking information as much as He is making an accusation. It is clear that God believes and knows Cain’s role in this tragedy and seeks to root it out.

To this end, as any good prosecutor does, God presents damning evidence of the crime that has been committed—“The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground…” (4:10b). Abel’s blood spoke directly against Cain’s claims and questions. God, in essence, told Cain, “you can tell me whatever you want about your brother’s whereabouts and your role in those whereabouts, but this blood-stained earth tells a different story.”

The very ground that had been cursed earlier was now polluted by the spilling of innocent blood. Later Israel was forewarned that murder defiled its land, and for such crimes there was no exoneration for the nation except through retribution against the malefactor (see Num. 35:33; Gen. 9:5) (Matthews, 275).

Though it is true that Abel never speaks in the Genesis record, his blood speaks here and indicts Cain for his terrible crime. Not only that, but Abel’s testimony of faith would live on throughout the ages (see Heb. 11:4), revealing what a heart that desires to please God looks like.  

God Judges Cain-4:11-12

The very blood-stained ground that Cain stood on is the very ground that curses Cain, “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (4:11). Here, the irrefutable evidence speaks for itself and convicts Cain in God’s court.  

This is the first occasion in Scripture in which a human being is placed under a curse. Though the serpent, the ground, and individual characteristics of the human person/condition were cursed earlier when Adam and Eve sinned, Cain himself is called cursed in verse 11. This speaks to the severity of Cain’s crime against God and His greatest creation—humanity. In fact, his culpability is emphasized by the direct accusation made—“your brother’s blood from your hand” (4:11). Also, the language used “you are cursed” (4:11) is eerily similar to the judgment dealt the serpent “cursed are you” (3:14). This grammatical parallelism demonstrates that both Cain and the serpent are especially cursed as each took actions that led to the loss of life.

There are two elements involved in the cruse dealt Cain. First, “when you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you…” (4:12a). “Because Cain has polluted the ground with innocent blood, he is ‘driven’ from it as his parents were from the garden (3:24),” albeit in a different way (Matthews, 275). Now, Cain would no longer enjoy a harvest. Though the ground was already cursed, requiring hard work for any yield whatsoever, the ground that Cain would trod was especially cursed as it would yield nothing, no matter the effort put into it.

Inasmuch as Cain would no longer be able to till the soil with any result, he was consigned to live as a vagrant—“you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth” (4:12b). Cain would live a life of perpetual exile as no home would sustain his needs and as no land would respond to his cultivation from this point on.

No doubt this element of the curse spoke in a special way to the people who originally read this—the Israelites wandering in the wilderness without a home. They knew how important it was to have a homeland as they hadn’t possessed such in centuries (they were enslaved before and now they were sojourning in the desert). So important was the land they were originally given and the Promised Land they were expecting that it was declared holy as it was bestowed by God and maintained by His covenant. Because of this, special provisions were made so that the land itself would not be defiled. For instance, it was decreed that a dead body must be buried by nightfall lest its corpse offend God and render the land unclean (Deut. 21:23). Therefore Abel’s body left rotting in the field was a powerful marker of the severity of Cain’s great sin and the consequences he received. If Cain could not keep his land undefiled by blood, he would have no land—an absolute necessity in that day.

Everything up to this point in the narrative seems relatively understandable—an investigator seeks the truth, a prosecutor makes a case, and a judge renders a verdict following a terrible crime. The guilty party—Cain—is punished and, if we are being perfectly honest, gets off relatively easy as God would have been totally justified in striking him dead right then and there. However, the punishment is banishment and a life of exile in a fruitless land. Seems more than reasonable to me.

God Protects Cain-4:13-15

However, it is not the end of the story. The next voice heard in this passage is Cain’s. Here, as we often see following a verdict being read, the perpetrator cries out for mercy—“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear!’” (4:13). Really?! Does Cain have a case? Should Cain even be given an opportunity to make this appeal? Who is Cain to be saying this anyway? The charges have been made, the evidence has spoken, the verdict has been read, the gavel has fallen, and Cain has already received less than he deserves!

Though, if we were present to witness this ourselves we might yell, “shut up!” or “sit down!” in response to these protestations, for whatever reason, God allows Cain to persist and outline his grievance—“Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth…” (4:14a).

However, chief among Cain’s complaints is for his own life—“and whoever finds me will kill me…” (4:14). Cain understands how precarious his situation is and protests that his penalty is too harsh—arguing that isolation from God’s protective presence effectively results in a death sentence. “Under the weight of this curse, Cain goes to pieces, though not in remorse” (von Rad, Genesis, 107).
There is a decided difference between how Cain responds here and how Adam responded in 3:20. There is not a hint of remorse in Cain’s plea, only self-pity and resentment. Fearing that someone else will do what God chose not to do (kill him), he asks for God’s help. Pretty rich! I can’t believe God would stand to listen to this!

However, not only does God’s listen, HE ENTERTAINS CAIN’S COMPLAINT WITH A RESPONSE! What is even more unprecedented is despite his deserved expulsion, the LORD DOES NOT LEAVE CAIN HELPLESS—“So the Lord said to him, ‘therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold’…” (4:15a).

One must be careful not to read into this that God was somehow bent by Cain’s complaint—“very well, whoever kills Cain…”. Instead a better interpretation would translate the “therefore” with “Not so, whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold,” thereby correcting Cain’s fearful outburst, not the expulsion. This makes better sense inasmuch as God corrected Cain earlier in 4:6-7, 10 and his expulsion remains the punishment in verse 16.

Though God was under no obligation to provide Cain with this reassurance, God makes sure that Cain knows that if anyone should kill him to avenge Abel, he/she would be dealt with most completely (“sevenfold”).

Not only that, God provides something else—“the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him” (4:15b). Often translated “mark” this “sign” is a mystery to today’s interpreters. One Jewish tradition understands Cain himself to be the sign who served to admonish others. A parallel in Ezekiel 9:4 suggests that this sign may have appeared on the forehead. However, the context of that passage is highly symbolic and cannot necessarily be applied to the more literal reading of Genesis 4.

Though the nature of the sign eludes most readers, the purpose is irrefutable. This mark was not bestowed onto Cain as a signal of his curse; it was given to assure his safety (the mark in Ezekiel’s vision had the same effect; it distinguished those who bore the brand and gave them protection) (Matthews, 278). Cain’s mark was an undeserved grace bestowed on this convicted felon, a grace that assured his life! What mercy!

This begs a question: “Why does God preserve the life of this murderer, especially when later the Torah would require capital punishment for murder?” Perhaps by providing the sign, God is preventing the spread of bloodshed that would have otherwise escalated in this primitive time. Also, by assuring life when death was deserved, God demonstrates His power over both these destinies. Life and death are His prerogative. Finally, this gesture illustrates something of God’s unmatched grace. While all of us would see to it that Cain would get the lethal injection, God shows grace and illustrates how His promise of procreation would not be thwarted even by human murder (see 1:28; 3:15, 20).

God Expels Cain-4:16

That said, sin must be punished. Cain would still be expelled—“then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (4:16). Cain’s physical relocation says something about his spiritual condition. His great sin and the consequences thereof demonstrate that Cain was far from God. That Cain relocates further east of Eden than his parents suggests that his sin has moved him even further from paradise. That Cain was made to reside in Nod betrays his wandering status (as “Nod” is a play on the word nad, meaning “wanderer”). In fact, some scholars believe that Nod is simply meant to say that wherever Cain sojourned could be called the “Land of the Wanderer” (the land of Nod).

So What?

Though God deals necessary consequences to the guilty party in this passage, as in Adam and Eve’s case earlier (see Genesis 3), He accompanies his punishments with undeserved graces. Why? Because God is a merciful God who is not constrained to popular polling, knee-jerk reactions, or human emotions. God is a God who stands over life and death and in his sovereignty decides what is best to fulfill His plan. Here, His plan involved bestowing on a complaining murderer a protected life for years to come, albeit in perpetual exile.

Though we might scratch our heads in response to what God does here or disagree with the mercy shown, we ought to sing God’s praises, for, we too have been given undeserved graces in spite of our sin. God’s mercy has overwhelmed us too in the person of Jesus Christ. Although we have probably suffered the consequences of our actions and the necessary punishments assigned to particular trespasses, we too have been confronted by the unmerited grace of God who looks beyond our failures to our potential in Him to accomplish His will into eternity. When we deserved execution for our sins, Jesus took our place. When we deserved condemnation, God gave an opportunity for life.

For those who cannot believe it, consider this: If God was not done using an unrepentant, complaining murderer, might he not be done using you—someone He sent His own Son to die for? We as God’s people must acknowledge our failures AND embrace God’s undeserved mercy, for then, and only then, will we be used by Him to share this mercy with the world around us. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Tale of Two Brothers-Gen. 4:1-8

What a joy it is to see my children playing together and having fun. What a pain it is to see them bicker each other and fight. Sibling rivalry is one unfortunate byproduct of a fallen world that surfaces again and again in my own household and in so many households in the Scriptures. However, the first example of this is perhaps the most shocking—Cain and Abel. In this tragic story found in Genesis 4:1-8, we come across a powerful lesson on the heart and how to keep sin from rearing its ugly head. Let us observe the six sets of pairs that together tell the tale and teach the lesson.
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PAIR #1: Two Kids are Born-4:1-2

After their banishment from the Garden of Eden at the end of chapter 3, Adam and Eve begin to set up shop elsewhere and start a family, “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord’…” (4:1). Cain’s birth is the first indication that God’s promise to Eve would come to pass. Things seem to be progressing nicely as Eve even acknowledges that she couldn’t do this without the help of the Lord. Such a statement made at the end of verse 1 recognizes the provision and grace of God that, though undeserved, was bestowed on this woman and her family. The first ever seed emerged from her womb, providing hope for the future realization of God’s promise.

Cain’s name is strikingly similar to a verb for “acquire,” or “bring forth.” Here, Eve has brought forth a son with God’s help and commemorates the event by naming her son after what has just happened. In bringing Cain forth, Eve is fulfills her womanly role in subduing the Earth (see 3:16-20). While Adam (adam) is ordained to work the “ground” (adama), Eve the woman (issha, 2:23) with divine help produced this first “manchild” (ish).

From this point on in chapter 4, Cain is the reference point and focus of the narrative. This is witnessed in the description of Eve’s second child Abel who is described as Cain’s brother, “Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground,…” (4:2). “Abel” means “Breath” and might be a direct reference to the brevity of life that is unfortunately illustrated in his premature demise.

What seems to be in focus here are the different occupations endorsed by the two sons that eventually will serve as a point of contention. Abel, it says, was a keeper of flocks while Cain follows in his dad’s footsteps and is a “tiller of the ground.” Both of these were well known in early societies as each one depended on the other for their success and the success of the community. However, depending on which job you had normally betrayed your bias as to its primacy.

The stage is set. Two boys are born and later enjoyed two different but equally necessary occupations. This provides the backdrop for what takes place next—worship.

PAIR #2: Two Sacrifices are Offered-4:3-4a

That worship of God was endorsed in this first household is witnessed in the offerings made to the Lord in verses 3-4a. Each man, in his own way, seeks to pay tribute to the God who showed them grace and provided for their every need. First up is Cain: “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground…” (4:3).

It is important to remember that at this time in history no formal laws had been given by God concerning how they were to worship the Lord or what offerings to make. The word used here for what both Adam and Cain present means “gift,” such as that given among brothers (Gen. 32:13) or to a king (1 Sam. 10:27) (Matthews, 267). These were not formal offerings in the Levitical sense of the word. They were intended to be heart-felt expressions of each one’s love for God. Also, later, Israel acknowledged the efficacy of both the grain and blood offerings. Therefore, Cain’s offering here is at least potentially pleasing to the Lord.

However, what is important to note about the description given of Cain’s offering is what is missing. Gone is any indication that Cain brought his best or the first-fruits of his produce. The matter-of-fact description is intended to be as boring and unimpressive for the reader as it was for God.

Abel’s offering, on the other hand, is impressive—“Abel, on his part, also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (4:4a). Two things about Abel’s offering render it especially pleasing to the Lord. First, he brings of the “firstlings of his flock.” This indicates that Abel did not give as an after-thought, but of first priority. Second, he gave the “their fat portions,” or, the very best of the animal. Such descriptive phrases are omitted from Cain’s offering earlier.

From this description alone, both the original audience and today’s audience is able to recognize a striking difference between the two offerings. The first is painted as a bland presentation of nothing especially significant, while the second is impressive as it is of the first and best of what is possessed. Though the efficacy of both grain and blood offerings is acknowledged later in the Old Testament, the first fruits (Ex. 23:16) and firstborn (Ex. 13:2, 15; Lev. 27:26; Deut. 15:19) were to be reserved for God (Matthews, 267).

PAIR #3: Two Reactions are Given-4:4b-5a

The contrast between the two offerings is nowhere more clearly witnessed than in the two reactions made by God himself. First, God’s reaction to Abel’s offering is made: “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering” (4:4b). Notice, that God’s renders a judgment not only on the offering, but on the giver of the offering. This illustrates the point that God will eventually try to make—what one offers to God betrays the condition of his heart for God. Here, the excellence of Abel’s offering indicates something of his great love for the Lord and desire to worship Him. This is why God is pleased with both the offering and the offerer.

Not so with Cain—“but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (4:5a). The unexceptional nature of Cain’s offering revealed nothing about his love or worship for God. God was not pleased with what he saw in the sacrifice and therefore was not pleased with what that said about Cain’s heart of worship.

What this reveals for both the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and for us today is simple. It is not enough to go through the motions. God judges the heart of people and is unimpressed by our rituals in and of themselves. It doesn’t matter what one gives; if it is not representative of one’s best, it does not impress the Lord.

PAIR #4: Two Messages are Made-4:5b-6

God’s disappointment and disregard is met with a strong nonverbal cue from Cain—“So Cain became angry and his countenance fell…”(4:5b). This phrase more woodenly translated is rendered “it burned Cain exceedingly.” Rather than respond to God’s lesson positively and choose to change his ways, his fallen countenance reveals even more about Cain’s heart and posture toward both the Lord and others. There is no hiding how hot Cain is under the collar, which is why God questions him in verse 6.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?...” (4:6). This question of Cain is similar to the one posed to Adam and Eve following their sin in the garden (Where are you? [3:9] Who told you that you were naked? [3:11]). God, inasmuch as He is omniscient, is perfectly aware of why Cain has a scowl painted on his face. He also knows the condition of Cain’s heart just as He knew where Adam and Eve were and who pointed out their nakedness. So why does he ask?

God here is providing an opportunity for Cain to confess the condition of his heart and deal with the issue at hand. Unless he acknowledges his own issue, there would be no getting past it. The first step in any recovery program is always to acknowledge the problem and this is what God encourages Cain to do here.

PAIR #5: Two Words are Spoken-4:7

In an effort to teach Cain the right way to handle the situation, he offers a word of advice and a word of warning. The advice comes in the following form—“If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?’…” (4:7a). In other words, “would not the best way to get over your issue be to do better next time? What does your anger achieve anyway?”

God is directly speaking to the next offering Cain would bring. Again, he is not requesting that Cain bring something different to the offering table. He is instead calling upon him to come to him with a heart that desires to please Him by giving his very best. This kind of offering would be pleasant to the Lord and lift up the very face that has fallen downcast. In fact, there is an interesting word play here as “acceptance” translates the Hebrew word for a “lifting up” or an “exaltation.” In other words, those with whom God is pleased can hold their head high. Those whom God disregards are downcast. What is the difference between the two—a heart that desires to offer the very best.

Such advice would be important for Cain to take, for, as the warning that comes next suggests, there is so much more at stake—“And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it’…” (4:7b). Choosing to do well will lift one up while choosing to continue down the path of rage will open the door to the very real lion standing outside the door. The image that God gives here is of sin temporarily at bay and subject to its master, but coming alive when stirred. Those who entertain lions for too long are liable to be injured are killed by them.

1 Peter 5:8-“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

What is described in a near concrete metaphor here is a brilliant illustration of how sin works. Because of the fall of mankind, sin exists in the world and is always a potential threat that surrounds the human race (like a lion lurking outside the door, hoping we invite it in or rouse it to action). Therefore, human responsibility is to keep the door shut and stay away from the danger. How is this done? By “mastering it” rather than have it master us. The easiest way to master sin has already been described—“do well!”

For Cain, his lion outside his door was murderous rage, just waiting to be stoked by rising anger. God encourages him to master this great evil by doing well to change his heart and offer a better sacrifice next time, thereby closing the door to potential tragedy. However, Cain chooses to invite the lion in and pays dearly for it.

PAIR #6: Two Actions are Executed-4:8

The first part of verse 8 is relatively difficult to translate only because very little is offered in the Hebrew—“Cain said to his Brother Abel.” Some interpret this to mean that Cain disclosed what God revealed to him to Abel (the dangers of sin in general and his anger in particular). However, this does not seem to match with Cain’s disposition. Other versions of this passage supply the phrase “let’s go out to the field” suggesting that Cain lured Abel into the fields before assassinating him (the second part of verse 8 seems to support this). Still others suggest that the writer was in such a hurry to get to Abel’s tragic death that he purposefully omitted the dialogue that would have transpired and interrupted the train of thought with the killing that takes place in the second part of verse 8.

Regardless of what Cain told his brother, Moses continues to reveal, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him,…” (4:8b). This heinous act of rage is made even more repulsive by the repetition of the phrase “his brother” in verse 8. Not to mention, if one endorses the addition of “let’s go out to the field” in the first part of verse 8, it renders Cain’s action even more sinister and premeditated.

It is obvious by this tragic event that sin has infected the children of the first parents. Also, “Adam and Eve do not have to await their own death to experience the devastating effects of their rebellion in the garden. They witness the murder of their youngest and the exile of their firstborn” (Matthews, 273).

How did this happen? Lions were flirted with as Cain’s anger was not extinguished. How did this happen? A heart that was more interested in looking good and following protocol than pleasing God refused to be corrected. 

So What?

Two lessons are yielded from this passage. First, God is pleased with us when we are pleased to give of the very best of ourselves to Him. In so doing, we betray a heart that loves and serves Him most. Are you giving the very best of your time, talents, and treasure to Him? Are your offerings made with a joyful and generous heart or given out of ritual and/or obligation? To be sure, at times we all have failed to give of our very best to him, some of us at times fail to give anything at all.

This is where the second lesson comes into play. Rather than stew in anger when one is corrected by God, His Word, or whoever He uses to relay a needed message of admonition, we ought to change our ways and not let sin have its nefarious way. When we stew or fail to deal with our sin (proving our mastery over it), it will master us and lead us to do any number of things. We must respect the fact that in our fallen world sin lurks behind every corner. When we abide in anger, boredom, jealousy, worry, etc. we invite it out and, given the right set of circumstances, are capable of just about anything. God show us the way and give us the grace to take it that leads away from sin!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Necessary Consequences-Genesis 3:14-21

The following scenario is literally as old as sin itself: two people, groups, political parties, countries, organizations, etc. are caught in a mess and immediately start to pass blame around so that they are not held accountable. It is true, we are no different than our first parents. Here is what takes place immediately after the fall of man in Genesis 3:8-13.
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“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

Chaos has ensued in the universe once again, leaving it up to God to, for the second time, establish order. This He does by executing His own brand of discipline. Now, as a parent, I always try to consider how I’m disciplining my children, making sure that the punishment fits the crime. So, this begs a question, “What consequences possibly fit the spoiling of Paradise by disobeying God’s one and only command?”  This we will find out as we look at two responses to the fall from Genesis 3:14-21.

Response #1: Consequential Curses-3:14-21

Following the blame game, God intervenes and begins to deal with the problem in verse 14. First God decides to address the serpent saying “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life,…”(3:14). Though originally the serpent held distinction as one of God’s most impressive creatures, now he was consigned to crawling on his belly. Also, though the serpent was craftier (arum) than all other animals, now he would be the “most cursed” (arur). Because he tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he would now be eating dust. These punishments are related to the snake’s subsequent life of humiliation and subjugation in the natural world. The proudest animal became the lowliest of creatures. “Eating dust” conveys as much as the term is used both in the Scriptures and even to this day to mock a loser. Not only that, but eating dust anticipates mankind’s end as well. The serpent’s figurative diet –dust—will be a constant reminder of his crime against humanity that returns to dust upon death.

The second element of God’s pronouncement against the snake speaks outline his new struggle—“and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed” (3:15a). In other words, from this point on, humanity will struggle against evil and evil against humanity. “Enmity,” in fact, possesses the connotative intensity of hostility witnessed in warfare and the level of animosity that results in murder (see Ezek. 25:15; 35:5; Num. 25:1).

Though at first this struggle will be witnessed between these two individual parties, “between you and the woman,” the conflict will not die with them. Instead, the snake and the woman represent the many that will come after them. In other words, Eve and her adversary are the progenitors of a lifelong struggle that will persist for some time and continue to be experienced “between your seed and her seed.”

However, the third element of the serpent’s curse is the most compelling—“He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (3:15b). Here, the plural concept of “seed” returns once again to singular representatives. Though “bruise” is used here, “crush” and “strike” are perfectly appropriate translations of the word as it is used respectively. Here, the location of the blow is telling. First, “He” will “crush you on the head.” This indicates a death blow dealt one day to the serpent and all that he represents. Second the serpent will “strike his heel”—indicating, by comparison, a recoverable injury.

For centuries this verse has been referred to as the protevangelium –“the first good news” as it is the first ever foreshadowing of Jesus’ total and complete victory over sin. Jesus, who is described as  “born of a woman” in Gal. 4:4 and is identified as the “seed” in Gal. 3:16, is the “He” of this verse who will one day crush the serpent’s head once and for all—putting an end to all evil. Though Jesus would be struck down temporarily at His crucifixion, He would recover in a most glorious way to achieve this victory in the end.

Revelation 20:10-“The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

What amazing news given even the midst of a curse! While God disciplines the responsible parties in this first-ever tragedy, he promises victory for His people! What grace!

Ultimately, the serpent’s curse involves humiliation, struggle, and total defeat. His curse, however, is mankind’s ultimate blessing!

However, discipline is not withheld from mankind for the time being. God’s holiness demands that He deal with sin. This is why God turns next to the woman and says, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children…” (3:16a). Notice, no reason is given here for the curse the woman receives. This is due to the woman’s culpability through deception, in contrast with the willful rebellion of the serpent and man (Matthews, 248). In other words, Eve was tricked into sin, the serpent and the man willfully and knowingly gave themselves to sin.

The first element involved in her punishment is painful labor that she must endure in the bearing of children. However, Eve, upon hearing this could take heart in at least two things. First, Eve would have found some comfort in knowing that she would live to bear children one day. Also, it would be through her offspring that final victory over sin would be achieved. Therefore, the greatest joy—victory over sin and the bearing of children—would come for Eve, but, would be experienced in pain. Painful childbirth signals hope and the promise of life but also serves as a perpetual reminder of sin and the woman’s part in it.

The second element involved in Eve’s punishment concerns her relationship with her husband—“yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (3:16b). To interpret this verse rightly one must understand Genesis 4:7b in which “desire” and “rule” are found again in tandem: “Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Here, “sin” is compared to an animal that when stirred up will assault Cain; it “desires” to overcome Cain, but the challenge God puts to Cain is to exercise “rule” or “mastery” over that unruly desire. Using this clearer passage to shine light on 3:16, one might understand the “desire” of the woman as an attempt to control or “rule” over her husband. This, she will fail to achieve because God has ordained that the man exercise his leadership function—“and He will rule over you” (better is “but he will rule over you.”).

The meaning of “rule” depends on the context in which it is found. In some places it speaks of governance while in others it refers to exercising jurisdiction. In still others “rule” means to have dominion. However, ancient Israel provided safeguards for protecting women from unscrupulous men and the New Testament takes many steps in the same direction. Therefore, it is not consistent biblically nor is it intended here for “rule” to mean “dominate.” Instead, “rule” speaks of man’s leadership within the marriage. Man will remain the leader though the woman will seek to supplant that leadership.

Ultimately, the woman is cursed with pain in childbirth and strife within the leadership dynamics of the home. However, in spite of her sin, woman is given the opportunity to have offspring—from which will come her ultimate salvation—and a husband who will lead and take care of her.
Finally, Adam gets his due. He is cursed last, in part, because he is ultimately responsible for what happened both to himself and to his wife. His failure to speak up and lead, followed by his willful disobedience, render him especially guilty-“’Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying “You shall not eat from it”’…” (3:17a). This is God’s way of telling Adam “you knew better and still chose to listen to your wife’s voice instead of my own.”

Man’s curse is especially fitting as he is from the ground and will now have to deal with that same ground on a whole new level—“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field,…” (3:17b-18). In other words, the ground will be his enemy instead of his servant. No longer would it be a pleasure to farm the land—it would be a pain. A day’s work has now become a daily grind as thorns and thistles emerge, representing obstacles that stand in mankind’s way of getting his work accomplished. “Adam’s sin has spoiled his environment and it suffers along with him since both are dust” (Matthews, 252).

 “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread” (3:19a). Though Adam’s curse is a cause for concern and dread, that he lives to see work and eat bread is a blessing in and of itself. Just as Eve is allowed the joy of having children and the hope that comes with offspring, Adam is allowed to see achievement as a result of his labor. Both deserved sudden death, but so far these curses reveal that death is a process.  

This is further explained in the second part of verse 19 which says, “till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In other words, the process of death will inevitably lead to mankind returning to the ground from whence it came. God’s greatest creation will end his earthly existence as the humblest of elements—dust. The same humble substance that was used to bring glory will now serve as a reminder of mankind’s humiliation due to sin.

Ultimately, Adam is cursed with toilsome labor. However, in spite of his sin, Adam is given an opportunity to take care of himself and his family for as long as he lives.

Response #2: Merciful Blessing-3:20-21

Following God’s judgments on this couple are two blessings that give the reader hope for the first couple and for the human race. First Adam names his wife “Eve” which means “living,” because, as he says, “she was the mother of all the living.” In naming her, Adam steps up to lead his wife—something he had failed to do earlier while in the garden—and looks forward to all that God has promised: offspring, accomplishments, and ultimate victory.

Here, the blessing is simple—post-sin life. In spite of their sin, Adam and Eve are able to continue living and move one from their tragic experience wiser than before. This is a powerful testimony of God’s undeserved goodness and grace for these two and their family.

However, God doesn’t stop there. He continues by taking an unprecedented step in verse 21—“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them…”. Here, God acts on behalf of this guilty and embarrassed couple to cover their guilt and shame. Their new clothes accomplish at least two things. First they confirm that they have sinned against God and that no longer can they walk before deity in innocence. Second, they make Adam’s and Eve’s life bearable as they cover their embarrassment.

The clothes made also communicates something else—God’s willingness to cover sin by means of sacrifice. There, in the garden, an innocent animal was slain/blood was spilled in an effort to bring about peace in the lives of the guilty and render their sins covered. This, no doubt, is the beginning of a type that would be witnessed again in sacrifices for sin found in the Old Testament and most completely in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that takes away the sins of the world.

What an amazing site to behold. In the face of egregious sin, the loving grace of a perfect father who desires peace and life for his kids is expressed. He is even willing to do something unprecedented—killing an animal—to provide this! What a blessing!

So What?

And it is a blessing that we can know today by means of Jesus Christ. In spite of our sin, our loving Father came down to earth, just as he did in the garden, to make a way for us to have a life free from guilt and shame. This involved something totally unprecedented—sacrificing his one and only innocent Son on the cross. As a result of this sacrifice, not only are sins covered, they are done away with, thereby allowing us to enter into a relationship with the God who was once a long ways off because of our iniquity.

The principle of this passage for both its original audience and for us today is simple: though God is holy and just to punish sin (see the curses), He is gracious and loving to provide what is needed for life (see the blessings). This would have proven to be a great encouragement for those wandering in the wilderness—experiencing first-hand the implications of their own fall. Though they were feeling the heavy weight of God’s judgment, they could take heart in knowing that God was gracious to provide for their need as He led them to the Promised Land. This same idea also proves to be a great encouragement for believers who remain in this fallen world today. Even as God lists the consequences of sin, He cannot help but also reveal the final victory that will one day come—when sin will be vanquished, the enemy will be destroyed, and all things will be made new! Take heart! The only thing bigger than the curse of God is His promise of blessing for His own! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Paradise Lost-Gen. 3:1-7

The stories found in the book of Genesis have served as the inspiration behind movie franchises, art, and other fanciful retellings throughout the ages. One of the most famous adaptations of the passage we are going to look at today is entitled Paradise Lost in which John Milton provides his own retelling of the fall of Satan and the subsequent fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Today we are going to look at the original account of this tragedy from Genesis 3:1-7 and observe three disastrous steps that were involved in the fall of mankind. Ultimately, from this study today we will learn exactly how precious God’s Word is for His people and just how egregious it is to disobey His commands.

Image result for Paradise Lost

STEP #1: God’s Word is Distorted-3:1-3

Paradise complete, community created, fruit aplenty, Eden was a real marvel to behold. However, as iterated earlier in this study (see notes on 2:7-8, 17-18), good is not great if there is no free choice involved. Without the possibility of choosing to do otherwise, the free agents that God created would not know true freedom.

 “For so I created them free and free they must remain” (Milton’s Paradise Lost).
Therefore, to pave the way for mankind’s free expression of love and obedience, God allows a serpent to enter the garden—“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (3:1). The serpent’s appearance is sudden and, at least in the way it is written, unexpected for those reading this. 

He is described as “crafty” (arum), which, depending on the context in which this word is found, can either mean wise or conniving. Here, it is obvious that the sharp wit of this serpent will be used for nefarious purposes. In fact, there is an interestingly word play going on in the original language as “crafty” (arum) looks and sounds a lot like what will eventually be exposed for Adam and Eve after their failure—their nakedness (arummim). This first couple ought to be aware of the craftiness of this serpent’s words lest his phrases lead to their undoing and shame.

No doubt connected to this historical account, serpents in the ancient world were viewed as unclean animals because of their movement on the ground (see Lev. 11:41-45). These were also associated with the judgment of God for Israel’s complaints against God in the wilderness (see the “venomous snakes” in Num. 21:6). Also, in the ancient Near Eastern tradition, snakes represented powerful forces that opposed the creator-god (for more discussion see Matthews, 234). Therefore, though Eve was unaware of the danger of falling prey to this destructive predator, you can bet that the original audience listening to this account would have gasped upon learning of the snake’s presence in the Garden of Eden. They understood what kind of danger Eve now faced.

Once introduced, the serpent sets about his work. Step one for this especially crafty serpent involved undermining the word of God—“And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” (3:1b). Notice how insidious this statement is. First, the serpent chooses not to directly contradict the command given. Instead he questions God’s motivation with “indeed, has God said” (i.e. “did God really say…?”). Second, the serpent uses the name “God” instead of the covenant name “LORD” that has so characterized the narrative from 2:4-25 (where “LORD God” appears almost exclusively). Third, after calling into question God’s motivation and calling the Lord by a different name, the serpent lies outright—“Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’…” (3:1b). Is this what God said?

Genesis 2:16-17-“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die."

This command, given originally to Adam before the creation of Eve, is worlds away from what the serpent is now suggesting in his question. Adam and Eve were free to eat from ALL the trees except the one—not prohibited from enjoying ANY of the fruit!

Many have speculated why Eve was made a special target by the serpent. Some suggest that the serpent believed if he could get Eve to sin, it would be an easy sell to her husband—that same husband who knew what it was like to be alone and upon seeing her for the first time was so taken with her likeness and beauty. Others believe that because Eve did not hear the command from God’s own lips, she was an easier target. Unlike Adam, Eve received the command from a secondary source. This could have rendered her understanding of the commandment more tenuous.

No matter the reason, Eve makes a tragic mistake in verses 2-3—“The woman said to the serpent, ‘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”’…”. Here, Eve entertains the question of the crafty serpent and tries to reason with someone who has a nefarious agenda. In so doing, she endorses a conversation with this destroyer that eventually leads to more manipulation of God’s command as originally given. In Eve’s attempt to correct the serpent, she ends of making her own mistake. She adds to God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil the idea of even touching it. This, along with her lack of urgency (changing “surely die” as found in the originally command to “die”) sets Eve up for failure. The tragic thing is, she doesn’t even realize how close she is to tragedy.

By the end of verse 3, God’s Word has been totally distorted. First, Satan has intentionally distorted God’s Word. Second, Eve has unintentionally failed to maintain its nuance and urgency. This failure is the soil in which sin sprouted in paradise. The principle here is simple: When God’s people fail to know, understand, and keep the Word of God, they will inevitably fall.

STEP #2:  God’s Best is Replaced-3:4-6a

As the situation continues to devolve, God’s best is replaced with something else. The serpent’s play involves getting the couple to believe that God is keeping them from something desirable. To this end, the serpent says, “’You surely will not die! For God know that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,’….” (3:4-5). Again, the motivation of God is called into question. For the serpent, God is not good and gracious; He is selfish and deceptive, preventing the man and woman from achieving the same position as Him.

Ultimately, in his crafty presentation, the serpent makes three counterclaims: First, in opposition to what Eve has just said, he claims that they will not die when they eat this food. Second, contra the couples’ experience, the serpent makes it seems as though it is only upon eating this forbidden fruit that their eyes would be truly open. Third, the serpent contends that God is holding them back from true abundance, fun, and knowledge (in spite of all that this couple knew and enjoyed up to this point) (adapted from Matthews, 237).

 “Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord Envy them that? Can it be a sin to know? Can it be death?” (Milton’s Paradise Lost)

It is, after all, just fruit,…right? What was the big point anyway? Why would God want to withhold something as pure as knowledge from this couple, especially in Paradise? To answer these questions we have to return to what is at stake. Though the couple was free to eat from the tree of LIFE, they were not permitted to eat from the tree of knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL. Can you imagine living a free and lasting existence without ever knowing the perils of wickedness? This is what God intended. The only way this could happen is if free agents followed God’s one command. Then, and only then could they know a perfect existence and maintain their freedom. Freedom is illustrated in the very real potential for choosing to disobey God’s command (to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Paradise is illustrated in the tree of life that could be freely enjoyed. God’s best involved providing Adam and Eve with a life free from knowing Evil. What could be better? What was a piece of fruit compared to that?!

Though God had the best intentions to make the very best existence available for this first couple and made every accommodation for mankind to realize this paradise forever, Eve, upon hearing the serpent’s words is distracted from God’s best by what looks good—“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 desirably to make one wise,…” (3:6a). This distraction is reflected in 1 John 2:16.

1 John 2:16- “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

It is obvious by what Moses reveals in Genesis that Eve endorses these inclinations. She looks at the juicy fruit hanging from the limbs and supposes it to be good for food (lust of the flesh), recognizes its color and size and is impressed by its ripeness (lust of the eyes), imagines what it would be like to know what God knows (pride of life), and, as a result, is in very real danger.

There is something deeply personal going on here as it pertains to the serpent and the nature of his temptation. If we believe that the serpent is none other than the fallen angel Lucifer, it is easy to understand why he wants Adam and Eve to fall in this way. The very same knowledge that the serpent tempts Eve with—the promise to be “like God” –is the very same thing that Lucifer wanted in the heavens. Because he failed in his prideful attempt to be like God, leading to his fall, he would love nothing more than for God’s greatest creation to experience the very same failure.

Ultimately, as it plays out here, Eve takes her eyes off of God’s best and settles for what looks good at the time—tasty fruit, good-looking produce, and new knowledge. This leaves her susceptible for egregious failure.

STEP #3: God’s Command is Broken-3:6b-7

In the most tragic verse perhaps ever penned, Moses writes, “she took from its fruit and ate” (3:6b). Here, in this first ever sin of commission, God’s one command was broken and paradise was lost. After entertaining the lies of the serpent and engaging a deceiver in conversation, God’s Word was distorted. After listening further to the destructive case being made and calling into question God’s motivations, the Lord’s best was replaced. The seed that was planted by the serpent grew in the Garden by means of discussion and manipulation, leading to a harvest of sin.

To make matters worse, Moses continues by saying, “and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (3:6c). One might ask, “Where has Adam been this whole time?” (That is a very good question!) Up to this point, his presence has gone largely unnoticed. However, his presence is assumed in this verses which suggests that he was “with her” this whole time. Not only that but the second and third person plural pronouns (“you” and “we”) that pervade verses 1-5 suggest that the serpent was speaking not just to one, but to both of them (although he was focusing on Eve in particular).

Therefore, though Eve’s decision to eat the fruit was the first example of a sin of commission, Adam’s silence during this whole situation illustrates the first example of a sin of omission. Adam failed to correct the record of God’s Word that the serpent lied about and that Eve misrepresented. Adam failed to remind his wife of God’s best for them.  Adam failed to lead Eve away from the tree and instead allowed her to move toward it. Because of this, one might make the case that Adam’s sin, though less obvious was primary and even more troubling.

Adam’s sin illustrates exactly what happens when individuals do not stake a stand for what is right, true, and good. As Simon Wiesenthal said, “for evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.” Here, Adam’s failure not only leads Eve toward sin, it also allows for the infection of the perfect community God created. His sin and her sin become their shared sin. This leads to the destruction of the perfect relationship this couple once shared with each other and with God.

 “Our state cannot be severed, we are one, One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.” (Milton’s Paradise Lost)

Immediately, just as quickly as Moses describes the sin of each of them, he continues by outlining the immediate consequences. First, there is an abundance of guilt, “then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (3:7a). Unlike God who is able to handle the knowledge of good and evil perfectly, humble humanity is shaken to its core, resulting in shame. That which was once a beautiful expression of love and freedom becomes a cause for concern and displeasure.

The two immediately set out to cover up their sin by covering up their naked bodies—“and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (3:7b). Their efforts to hide their shame are puny and insufficient. No one was hiding anything with these leaves. Instead, in an effort to hide their shame, they only drew more attention to it.

Now, no longer was Garden of Eden a wondrous place, but a fallen place. Guilt pervaded the once joyous garden. Covers now crudely hide the glorious beauty of God’s greatest creation. Paradise was lost.

So What?

How did this all happen? God’s Word was distorted, God’s best was replaced (after the serpent had Eve believing that God was withholding His best from them), and God’s command was broken. This is the fault of BOTH Adam and Eve. Adam was silent when he should have spoken up and led. Eve was enamored with what was in front of her rather than who God was.

While it is easy to call these two out for their great failure, understand that Satan gets a lot of return out of these same tactics today. This is why God’s people need to study, know, and understand His Word. The Bible says “Thy word have I hidden in my heart that I may not sin against God” (Ps. 119:11). This is also why we need to be more impressed by God than we are with this world has to offer or what we believe we are missing. Like Paul we must trust that no matter the circumstance or presumed lack, God is still with us and providing us with everything we need to perform His will—“I know how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12-13).

So much is at stake when we are tempted. It is a matter of life and death! However, it is also a matter of confidence in who God is and what He has said. We must not fail to remember His word. We must not be silent when HIs truth is being distorted. Instead, we must lead the way to truth and have a bigger opinion of what is unseen than what is seen.