Chapter 3 in the Book of Genesis begins with a sinister chill, Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.”
Somehow, ishah, the woman, appears alone. How much time had elapsed between the joyous union of ish and ishah? Were they well-joined, the “one flesh” that had been so eloquently described at the end of Genesis 2? Or, were they still new as a couple, still feeling their way? Imagine the first human being, elated and effervescent, as he drew the second person ever to exist into his embrace. “Bone of my bones!” he had cried. Being of my own being, part of me, and me part of you.
He must have taken her everywhere in the Garden, describing each tree, each flowering plant, every tiny buzzing and swarming thing, telling her the names of all the creatures, stroking the lion’s mane together, marveling over the peacock’s feathers, delighting in the spider’s web, and the raucous pandemonium of parrots overhead, in the Garden’s great, green canopy of fragrant tree branches.
Joy, love, glory, pleasure, all increases when shared with another. Each new experience, the feeling of rich juice running down her chin, as she bit into a luscious peach, the soft lift of a breeze, the fresh scent of jasmine, the musical trill of wrens, singing to each other, must have entranced the man as much as the woman, as he experienced them afresh through her.
She laughed with him, worked with him, played with him, caught him when he lost his balance, and he caught her, too. He must have told her, again and again, how lonely he had discovered himself to be, not knowing what the ache in his heart had been, only knowing it was there, a leaden weight that became increasingly unbearable. What a gift she was to him, he would tell her. A treasure who outweighed, in his love for her, all the beauties and enchantments of their Garden.
Imagine the moment they entered the hushed glade where Life and Knowledge stood, in their quiet power. The Tree of Life, he told her. We may eat of all the trees in the Garden, including this tree. But already she was looking at the other, beguiling, Tree, spellbound by its exotic loveliness, its alluring fragrance redolent with rare spices, sharp and tangy, the perfume of hidden mysteries. No, he might have said. That is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We must not eat of it, or we will surely die. Yahweh, our God, our Creator, our Father, He has said this thing.
Did a hint of worry, concern, possibly even fear, begin to form in the man’s heart, as he watched his counterpart gaze at this tree, enraptured? How could he ensure she do what he wanted? What he needed? He could not lose her! We must not even touch this tree, or its fruit, beloved. Please, stop looking at it. Perhaps he took her hand and led her away, gently, yet insistently, firmly.
Or, had the man also begun to feel the low, thrumming power of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’s secrets? Had he begun to wonder what it might be like to taste of its fruit, to take into his own being what God had warned him against? Was the man’s own addition to God’s word, “we must not even touch it,” as much for himself, as it had been for his beloved companion?
Or, perhaps it was ishah, after all, who added those words, for herself. Perhaps in her sensitivity and empathy, she saw her beloved’s concern and even fear of what might happen should they eat of this forbidden food. Perhaps, in her imagination, she saw herself reaching up into the Tree of Knowledge’s branches, caressing the leaves…and then the fruit, testing its ripeness. Perhaps she imagined the fruit resting in her palm, a slight shift of weight, and it was off the branch, now held in her grasp. Perhaps she imagined herself lifting the fruit to her mouth, breathing in its rich scent, touching its silky skin with her lips…No! She may have said to herself. I will not even touch it.
How long, then, from those first moments with the two great trees was it, before the woman, ishah, found herself lingering long enough near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to hear the serpent calling out to her?
Even though science tells us testosterone is the risk-taking hormone, it was the woman who really looked at the fruit of knowledge, and realized it was good, and beautiful. She ran a cost / benefit ratio in her mind. She assessed the risk, as the man silently watched. Then she reached out her hand.
Did the man gasp? Did his eyes widen in fear…or excited anticipation? She took the fruit, and the world did not tilt. As she lifted it to her lips, did she glance at the man under half-lidded eyes? Did she smile around the fruit, did it seem as though she sparkled with promised adventure? For without a word the man also took the fruit and ate it.
There are, admittedly, some strange aspects to this story. Talking serpents for instance, and the fact that ishah took it in her stride. I think this story was written in this way so that each one of us can place ourselves inside the narrative, and understand it from a deeply personal place. The more you and I interact with this story, and think through the answers to our own questions, the more we are going to come to understand not only the deep issues God presents here, but our own hearts.
In Genesis 1, God blessed men and women and gave them instructions for how to govern and develop the earth.
As Genesis 2 unfolded, it became clear that God intended the fulfillment of these instructions to be a process. Women and men would learn how to work and take care of the earth by first learning to work and take care of the garden. Humankind would learn how to wisely govern all creatures by first studying and naming them. Husbands and wives would become one in marriage through the process of being open, vulnerable, and transparent with each other, in loving communion with God, unity with each other, and eventually in the community of families, clans, tribes, people groups, nations.
So far, only God, and humankind, are at the center of the story. Now, in Genesis 3, a new being is introduced, a speaking serpent. In context, there is very little to help us understand what it is, or where it came from. Clearly, it had to have been created by God, Who created everything there is. Presumably, it, too, had initially been pronounced “good,” even “very good.” It was counted among the “wild” animals, yet also permitted to be among the creatures of the protected Garden. Perhaps, the serpent had also been examined and named by the man.
Most notably, of all the wild animals that existed, the serpent was the craftiest. ‘Arum,’ in Hebrew, means shrewd, sometimes prudent and sensible, yet often associated with those who are plotting secret plans. The crafty conceal knowledge for purposes of manipulation and strategy. A crafty person also considers every angle, and is wise in knowing that understanding every angle provides great advantage over people and situations.
From this one word, the serpent is revealed as one who had plotted to undermine the man and the woman, and the process God had put forth, of developing them into mature beings. The serpent’s strategy was to manipulate the young couple into questioning the love, goodness, and integrity of God, enough to doubt His warning, and test the truthfulness of His caution.
From this one word, we can surmise the serpent held no love for God, or for these two beings into whom the Lord had poured so much love and care. The serpent was their enemy, and God’s enemy. Yet, because he was crafty, he was able to conceal this truth from the woman, and the man. Because of his craftiness, the serpent was able to deceive and seduce ishah into listening to him.
[Eve Tempted, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908), 1877 | Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]