Genesis 3:14-19: Stepping on Snakes

Genesis 3:14-19 Stepping on Snakes

"The LORD God said to the serpent,
'Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.'"
-Genesis 3:14

The Curse
“Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.” Lots of people, mostly old men, have Bible jokes. When you are pastor, people think these are the only jokes you want to hear. Most are terrible. This one is my favorite. My other favorite is, “Did you they have cars in the Bible? The disciples were all in one Accord.”

The Scripture passage above tells of the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin. They were sinless in the garden, given only one thing to avoid, eating from the tree of good and evil. However, a crafty snake showed up and convinced them that God was holding out on the good life from them. They stopped trusting God, and this poetic declaration by God declares the result.
I want to look at the punishment bit by bit, to see how it plays out in each of our lives, and I want to find the hope hiding in the devastation.

The Snake
First up is the snake. Most people are irrationally afraid of snakes. Perhaps it’s the way they seem to swim across land at astonishing speed. Perhaps it’s their unblinking elliptical eye, and perpetual, predatory smile. Or it’s the way I found one under my trash can once when I rolled it off the street. Whatever the case, in almost all cultures of recorded history, the snake has been a creature of mystery, chaos, and cunning. Sometimes worshipped, almost always feared. 
The ancient Israelites were no different. The snake in this story represents evil incarnate. His curse is that he loses his ability to speak, loses his legs, and must eat dust. This last part is important. Dust is what we eat in death. The snake has been relegated to the place of the dead. One can see how subsequent revelation of the nature of Satan could begin with a tempter who now only dwells among the dead.

The Woman
In the creation story of chapter 2, the woman and man are called to be fruitful and multiply. The woman is also called to create community with the man and be his partner. The fall results in difficulty for both roles. First, we learn that “in pain you shall bring forth children” (v. 16), and then that her husband “shall rule over [her]” (v. 16). What should have been purely a joy—living in partnership with the man and bringing life into the world—is now marred by pain and inequality. We often forget that prior to modern medicine, childbirth was perhaps the most dangerous thing a woman could do. And history is littered with stories of the atrocities towards women because of their vulnerability in almost every society.

The Man
The result of sin for all people (though it’s directed at the man) is ecological disaster, difficulty in securing food, and a loss of immortality.

“cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” (vv. 17b-19)

This gives us a possible glimpse into how the evils of natural disasters and even the brokenness of pollution can be tied to our sinful nature. It all started in the garden, when we didn’t trust God.

The Hope
But through all of this, there is hope. This is not the way things are supposed to be, and God will, throughout the rest of the Bible, seek to return humanity to peace, community, harmony with nature, and eternal life. Jesus comes to reverse the curse, destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

This undermining of Satan is what we hope for, partially in this life and fully in the world to come. Furthermore, this is what we work for as subjects of King Jesus.

Women for most of history have suffered in childbirth and been oppressed by the powers that be. People for all of history have been at the whims of nature, and hunger has been a scourge on humanity for as long as we can remember. Enmity between men and women, and between all types of people, have destroyed relationships, communities, and countries for all of civilized history (beginning with Cain). People have chosen the way of their desire rather than the way of God in every area of life, and it has continued to destroy. As the people of King Jesus, as we await his return, these are among the things we work against.

Whatever the final kingdom is going to be like, that’s what we work for now. And in the second resurrection, death itself will be destroyed. We will no longer return to dust.

Tread on Him
We see a clear glimpse of this hope in the one passage I have yet to mention. It details the perpetual strife between the snake and the children of the woman.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” (v. 15)

We learn that the son of Eve will crush the head of the snake while receiving a mortal blow to himself. This is exactly what happened on the cross. I think it's beautiful that climax of the story is foretold in the very beginning of the Bible. The powers of evil conspired to kill Jesus, the ultimate son of Eve, but in his death he crushed death and evil, once and for all. Now we wait and work until all things are brought under the power of his nail-scarred hands and fang-scarred heel.

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