In our most recent Wascana Fellowship meeting we began discussing Genesis 3 from a different starting point than usual: Romans 1:24-25. In Romans 1 Paul is making a generalized attack on all human depravity and points out that all human societies, Jewish and Gentile, have strayed very far from God’s purpose for humanity. He notes that this has led to all manner of bizzare forms of worship of creatures and of bizzare behaviours that harm, mutilate, steal and otherwise wreck or twist human relationships. In verse 25-26 he states, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (NRSV)
He seems to believe that there is a root to all the perversity of human nature. That root seems to involve 1) believing a lie about God and 2) worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. All the degeneration of the human race seems to stem from this basic twin sin, in Paul’s view.
The second half of our introduction here involves a fascinating passage, Hebrews 2:5-13, which talks about God’ original plan for humankind. You can read the passage here. He starts by pointing out that the new world God plans is not intended to be ruled by angels. This presumes that perhaps the present world is ruled by angels. He then goes on to quote a portion of Psalm 8, a meditation on the story of humankind’s being granted dominion over the creatures of the earth in Genesis 1.
He concludes by pointing out that humanity does not at this time have the dominion granted originally to Adam and Eve, except that we now somehow see this dominion in Jesus’ extension of brotherhood/adoption to those who believe in Him.
How do human beings go from dominion to non-dominion? Does it have anything to do with Paul’s observation about humanity believing a lie about God and worshiping the creature rather than the Creator?
With these two concepts in mind, we now go back to Genesis 1-3 to see if we can discern what happened. In Genesis 1:28 God gives them a dual command: 1) multiply and fill the earth and 2) subdue the earth by exercising dominion over the the fish, birds and all land creatures of the earth. Having dominion over the creatures is a basic part of God’s design for human beings. The connection I would like to make is that this suggests that being ruled by the creatures is contrary to God’s will for humanity.
If you have ever wondered why making images of animals and worshiping them is abhorrent to God, you may find the answer in the paragraph above. The gold calf incident in Moses’ time probably gets great play in the Exodus story precisely because it goes completely contrary to God’s clearly stated will for all humanity.
And now Genesis 3:1. Enter the Serpent, who is introduced as the wiliest of the creatures on the earth. Think for a moment about what most of us have been taught about the serpent in the garden. Most of us have been taught that this particular serpent was none other than Satan the Devil, a depraved evil spirit who undoubtedly took the form of a serpent to beguile the first humans. Our understanding has been so influenced by this later knowledge that we assume Adam and Eve knew exactly what they were dealing with.
From Adam and Eve’s perspective they were dealing with a non-human creature that walked on the earth. What was their duty to God when it came to interacting with an admittedly intelligent non-human creature?
At this point many in our group wanted to discuss what the deal was with a talking animal. Why weren’t the two humans surprised that the snake could talk? Perhaps it was the only animal that could talk, so the two human beings didn’t mind passing the time of day with it for lack of other conversation than their own.
Could other animals talk at that time? Given that many aboriginal cultures around the world seem to have legends about talking animals, perhaps we have lost more in early human sin than we have thought. It may be that God caused a Babel-like inability to communicate with animals before scattering human languages in Genesis 11. Perhaps the fear of human beings that God put into animals in Genesis 9 was accompanied by a loss of communcation. It is impossible to know for sure. Geneis only captures the highlights of what is absolutely necessary for humanity to know about how we went astray.
At any rate it is the serpent who convinces the first human beings to disobey God. What commentators don’t seem to notice is that the act of disobeying God is also an act of obedience.
Obedience to the serpent.
And that is how rulership of the world passes from humanity to the creature.
That is how belief in a lie about God combines with worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
Traditional theories about the first sin simply being the eating of forbidden fruit do not explain how rulership of the world passes from humanity to the Devil.
We conclude with a story that occurs about four millenia later, featuring our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
According to Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted by Satan. (Of course, the reader hopefully knows by now that this is the same personage as the serpent/tempter in the Garden of Eden.) At the conclusion of the third and final temptation (rulership of the world), Jesus tells the Devil (v. 10, NRSV), “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him.'” The story concludes with Satan leaving and angels serving Him.
Commentators almost universally notice that Jesus exercises dominion over the Devil. I have yet to see the connection being made between how Jesus’ responds to the Creature and how Adam and Eve were supposed to respond to the Creature. Adam and Eve had a standing order from God to exercise dominion over the creature, and they failed to do so.
Jesus Christ had to (among many other things) show us how to do that. When we stand in Him we may stand strong. That is why James can confidently admonish believers to “resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
Understanding the nature of the powerful behind-the-scenes influence of demonic entities on the leadership and culture of this world is important to believers in Jesus Christ. The nature of empire-building is described well by the title John gives the Roman Empire in the book of Revelation: “the Beast.” (Rev. 13) Even more important, however, is understanding that by His death and resurrection, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Jesus is Lord.
The only Lord.
And He is offering every human being a fresh start in a “new heavens and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) that is free from the domination of the Creature/Serpent/Devil and therefore truly the dominion we are called to at last! He is offering to bring us back to the place He intended humanity be forever, worshiping only one Lord and building a free, prospering and peaceful world together.
Eating the forbidden fruit was a sin, but it was not the only violation involved in that incident. I believe it is important to see that obedience to the Serpent and believing his lie is the root of the fall of humanity. Whoever you are bound to obey is the one you are the servant of. Who will we serve? The Creator or the creature?