Sunday, March 15, 2015

Theft #17D - Stealin' Back Death: Temptation and Sin Sneak Up

          3:1 Now the serpent was crafty from every creature of the field which YHWH Elohim made, and he said to the woman, "Indeed, did Elohim say 'You will not eat from every tree of the garden?' " 2So the woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of every tree of the garden we eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which (is) in the midst of the garden, Elohim said 'You will not eat from it and you will not touch against it, lest you die.' " 4Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not certainly die. 5For Elohim knows that in the day of your eating from it, then your eyes will be opened and you will become like Elohiym, ones knowing good and evil."         

        6Then the woman saw that good (was) the tree for food and that desirable it (was) for the eyes and the tree was being desired in order to give insight. So she took from its fruit and she ate. Then she gave also to her husband with her and he ate. 7Then were opened the eyes of the two of them, and they knew that naked they (were). So they sewed together fig leaves and they made for themselves loin-coverings. 8Then they heard the sound of YHWH Elohim walking in the garden in the wind of the day. So they hid themselves, Adam and his wife, from the face of YHWH Elohim in the midst of the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:1-8, URLV)

Scene 1 of our short “morality play” on death begins after chapters 1 & 2 of Genesis have established that God has created a perfect universe, with a perfect heavens and earth as His focal point, and a species called “humans” to occupy that earth who will manage and direct the earth in the name of YHWH Elohim.

As a prelude of sorts, it is worth noting that Genesis 2 went into more detail about the different ways in which man and woman were created, and also established two important facts: 1) Woman was created for man after man discovered for himself that none of the animal species God had created were suitable “companions” for man, and 2) after woman was created, man named her in precisely the same manner that he had named each of the “unsuitable” animals that were not deemed suitable partners for man. This is not to say that man regarded the woman at the level of an animal--quite the opposite: Adam’s reaction to seeing the woman indicates an extraordinarily high regard and attraction for her. However, in Ancient Near Eastern culture, the idea of a “naming” ritual clearly established that the one who did the naming had some kind of authority over the one who was named. To be precise, any reader in ancient Israel who read this account would have—without hesitation—recognized that the Man had clear authority over the Woman in chapter 2, before anything approaching sin began to happen. Or, in the language of the modern debate: male headship over the female was established in the perfect creation before the Fall. That fact becomes important as this drama unfolds.

Having observed the man’s clear authority over the woman, what happens next is a bit curious. A serpent appears and approaches the woman with a clear intent to persuade her to disobey God. (That this serpent is more than a mere animal is strongly implied, but—once again—we are dependent on New Testament teaching to tell us exactly who this serpent is.) I think it is not out of line to ask “If man’s in charge, why approach the woman.” That is to say, if the serpent wants to cause the “fall of Man,” why not go right to God’s clearly delegated representative, the man? After all, even though both man and woman had authority over the whole earth, the man had authority over the woman, and it could be assumed that the serpent would need to persuade the man himself to disobey God for the temptation to succeed. So why the woman?

Well, there may be something to be said for trying to undermine the authority both of God and of the man before the man is approached. After all, God had warned man directly about the death penalty for disobedience even before woman was created, and perhaps the serpent had an idea that the man would resist any direct attack on God’s authority. Also, it is very likely that the woman learned of God’s one “rule” about the forbidden true from the man rather than directly from God. So, the serpent goes after the woman instead, perhaps counting on the fact her obedience to God was tied to her trust that her husband had accurately communicated God’s will.

And, we have to admit that the serpent’s strategy works. The woman’s faith in her husband, and God, is gradually eroded by the serpent’s denial that disobeying God would lead to death, and by coming to believe that God (and her husband?) were denying her the chance to grow into something more than she was. In the end, she bought into the lie that somehow God wanted to keep her away from something better than she had. In fact, she was apparently convinced that “knowing good and evil” would be a good thing, although it’s doubtful that she really had a good understanding of what exactly evil was, at that point. It doesn’t seem to register with her that to disobey God (and her husband?) is the evil she will come to know by her actions, because she is led astray by the serpent into regarding the forbidden fruit as more desirable than the will of God. So, she eats. And, after she eats (drumroll, please) . . . nothing happens: she doesn’t die, she doesn’t gain any insight, nor are her eyes even opened. What’s the problem?

Well, the “problem” has apparently been standing there watching this entire conversation in the person of her husband, the “man in charge.” It’s disturbing enough to think that the man would let the serpent’s deception continue without his intervention, but what happens next is downright shattering: “She gave also to her husband there with her, and he ate.” BOOM!!!!!!! That did it! Then their eyes were both opened after the man ate. So, what if the man had “just said NO,” at that point? To me, it seems painfully obvious that the man was the serpent’s target all along, because it was only the man’s disobedience that would bring sin and death into God’s perfect world. Am I saying that if Adam had refused to eat that the woman’s deed would have been redeemed or “forgiven” or overlooked? Well, yep, something like that.

However, when Adam ate and their eyes were actually opened, and they did not have this great “insight,” except to notice that they were naked, and to immediately feel shame because of that. So, disobedience is followed by new knowledge which is followed by something else which is new: shame. In the Bible shame is usually the emotional response to the fact of guilt. (NOTE: “Guilt” is the objective fact; “shame” is the feeling that comes from being guilty.) In this case shame put a barrier between the man and woman: between the husband and wife. Shame caused a separation between them which had not even occurred to them until they ate, so they cover themselves up, even though there were no other humans who could see this nakedness. What happened to “naked and not ashamed?”

So what’s next? Well, next they hear God wandering around the garden, and, sure enough, they hide from Him, now revealing that there is a separation not only dividing the man and woman, but a separation that divides the man and woman from God. The fact that they choose to hide right smack “in the middle of the trees of the garden” seems to be a good indication that their common sense has deserted them as well, because that’s where the sin occurred, for heaven’s sake! And that’s not even mentioning the absurdity of thinking that they could actually successfully hide from YHWH Elohim!!!

But hide they do, and the question is now: Where is the death in all of this? God warned that they would die, but even in their shame, are they not still alive? Well, that question calls for some thoughts about exactly what “death” and “dying” are, as presented in the Bible, and even what death still means to us in our ‘post-modern” era.

So, here goes: What exactly is death, if not—at its very root, separation? Physical death is the separation of body and spirit, and the separation of a person from the “earthly life” and from all of that person’s friends and family. That part’s pretty easy to see. We will see in Scene 2 that the man and woman have already started dying, and are on the road to their own physical death, with the radical separation involved in that. However, their shame has already caused a separation between the man and wife, and that is the first blush of death already, is it not? Then, in their hiding from God, they reveal that the man and woman are already separated from God in some way, and is that not the core of spiritual death? God has not yet said a word to the woman or man, but already they are suffering two of the most painful results of death: separation from each other and separation from God.

So God’s warning was true, and the serpent was indeed a deceiver and liar. But God will speak to everyone involved in Scene 2 of this unfolding tragedy, so we’ll stop here with more than a bit of apprehension about “What will He say?”

Back soon;  Yours in Christ,
The Thief.

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