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Proper 5B Alt 1st Reading

Genesis 3:8-15

“And rage I will put between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring.”

There’s a new movie out based on an old video game I played once upon a time. In it animals revolt and begin to rampage against humanity, destroying everything in their path. I’m not sure if this is what the author of Genesis 3:15 had in mind, but it is a contemporary imagination of the offspring of the snake and Eve battling out the rage put between them. Thousands of years and countless examples later, you’d think we’d figure out a way to get along. However, that seems to be part of the profound truthfulness of Genesis 3. We, like our parents, cannot keep from making choices that lead to fear and destruction.

In our Old Testament reading for this week, we catch the penultimate action in the Garden narrative. In it, Adam and Eve have enjoyed a short-lived time of blissful intimacy in the garden. Just before our passage, Eve and the serpent,[1] discuss the merit of eating from the tree God had instructed Adam never to eat, upon immediate penalty of death. After eating the fruit, the first couple has their eyes opened, realize they are naked, and proceed to make coverings for themselves from fig leaves.[2]

Our text picks up as the final downfall arrives. Adam and Eve hide when they hear God walking in the cool of the garden. Out of fear, they remove themselves from the open relationship with God they’ve enjoyed up to this point. Upon finding them hiding in the garden, God begins questioning Adam and Eve. The following dialogue plays out in a tragic manner. As God seeks to find out what has happened, Adam and Eve evade the opportunity to respond in a way the brings about reconciliation. Instead, each time, they find a way to not directly answer the question at hand and shift blame for what has happened. The result of all this is that God curses the snake and the relationship between it and the humans with a rage that explains why most human/snake relations are marked by fear and loathing.[3] This consequence and the others listed beyond the scope of this week’s passage are terrible. Yet, even before God informs Adam and Eve of the consequences of their choices they are already suffering a primary result of what we call sin: unhealthy fear and separation from intimacy. These two pains which leave all of us with inability to live in right relationship with God, one another, and creation is a terrible consequence of choosing to live in ways opposed to the best God desires for us. What is worse is how our initial brokenness is often compounded by more choices based in the fear we will be found out, we will have to confront ourselves and our original choices, or take responsibility that what we want is our way. This destructive cycle leads to all sorts of death, both literal and metaphorical, in our world. If we ended here, we would truly be people with any hope. The rage of the curse would be the last word.

Fortunately, 3:15 is not the end of Genesis nor Christian Scripture. I want to offer a couple of highlights for those reading the text in broader contexts. First, in Genesis, though Adam and Eve’s choices have terrible consequences, God’s faithfulness to them is greater than their failure. It is important to note that they do not indeed die the day they eat of the fruit, nor are they cursed as the snake.[4] They do suffer consequences, and this is important. There are always consequences to sin. As Wesleyans, we do not believe that sin is inconsequential, or that forgiveness somehow erases implications. Instead, we believe, and scripture bears witness to the fact, that God’s faithfulness is stronger than our choices or sin’s consequences. As such, God does not leave Adam and Eve alone. God follows up their repercussions by providing better clothing for Adam and Eve. God then removes the couple from the garden and the possibility of eating from the tree of life. Finally, God continues to work to be in covenant with Israel through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and then in Jesus Christ. In these covenantal relationships, we see God working to restore the broken relationships and overcome the rage that is set between humanity and creation. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the fullest picture of not only covenantal faithfulness, but also what can happen when love guides our choices and reconciles relationships. As we consider this text this week, may we certainly be reminded of our brokenness and the consequences of our sin, but may we also be reminded of the gracious love and faithfulness of God that has also been present from the beginning.

[1] In the Hebrew text, the snake really is just a serpent. It isn’t until later apocryphal interpretations of the garden narratives, such as the Wisdom of Solomon (2:24) of the Apocalypse of Moses (a.k.a Life of Adam and Eve) (17:1), that the serpent is associated with the devil. The references in Revelation to the “ancient serpent” in 12:9 and 20:2 reflect the later interpretative tradition that had already associated the serpent with the devil.

[2] Fig leaves, being a material can cause an irritation to skin and an itch, is probably intended to show that the couple, though being made aware, is not very wise in their choices.

[3] My son and many others obviously disagree as he loves snakes and other lizards; however, the basic point of the etiology is that humans and snakes don’t get along.

[4] The construction of the text in 2:17 “for in the day you eat of it, you will indeed die” is a form of Hebrew that suggests the death would occur on that day of the eating and that it would certainly happen. Some people suggest that though Adam and Eve didn’t die that day they did eventually die or that they brought death into the world. Both are certainly interpretive options and important within systematic Christian Theology. It is important to note the construction and the point that they do not, in fact, die on that day, which is in fact what the text says.

About the Contributor

Stephen Riley

School of Theology and Christian Ministry, NNU