Thursday, August 09, 2007

The serpent’s craftiness (Genesis 3:1-5)

Three tactics of the serpent: 1) question the commandment of God, 2) deny the consequences of disobedience, 3) cast aspersions on the character of God.

The serpent is described as crafty, and his temptation of Woman shows this craftiness.
The serpent’s goal is to get the Woman to defy God and eat from the Tree. However, the serpent does not suggest this directly.

Tactic 1: question the commandment of God

The serpent questions the woman, like a lawyer, charting her understanding of the situation, and perhaps challenging whether God has issued a command at all

It is often suggested to us, either from an external source or even our own minds, that perhaps God did not issue a certain command at all. (“Did God really say ‘don’t look at attractive people’?” “Did God really say that it was wrong to be rich?” “By ‘thou shalt not steal,’ was God really thinking about office supplies or taking overly long lunches?”)

This questioning of the command seems to cause us to begin to deconstruct the commandment, as if it were up to us to judge the edicts of God. Also, stating the grounds for the commandment in this context opens up lines of attack (the serpent will next attack the rationale for the command), particularly if we’ve failed to know or understand the command.

What is the difference between a bad-faith deconstruction of a command and a good-faith inquiry into the nature of a command? Perhaps it is the motivation – if we begin questioning the command during temptation, that may be a sign of a bad-faith motive.

Tactic 2: deny the consequences of disobedience.

The second tactic, the undermining of the consequence of disobedience, is used perhaps even more frequently than the first tactic. The Woman says that if they eat of the tree they will die; the serpent denies this. (Notice that the line of attack was opened up by the initial questioning of the command – the woman explained that if they touched or ate from the tree they would die).

This is done today by believers and non-believers alike. From the non-believer, it often comes in the form of academic and popular criticism, and the most obvious current examples are in the realm of sexual activity, for example:

The command: sex must only occur in marriage. This is because it is good for people (for whatever reason, fill in the blank).

The counter-argument: “sex outside of biblical norms is not bad or harmful. In fact, it is good for you, and you should enjoy it, particularly if it is between two people who love each other.”


The command: lying is wrong. This is because (insert rationale).

Counter-argument: lying is actually often-times good for you and the person you lie to.

The underlying point is that these activities which are prohibited by God, are in fact good for you – and the underlying argument is that you should partake of the prohibited activity.

However, Christians often make this argument to themselves.

The command: do not sin. This is because of (name your negative consequence as described in the Bible).

Counter-argument: God will forgive your sin, so there will be no negative consequence.

However, we know that the Woman did die, even though it did not come to pass exactly as she may have expected.

Sometimes Christians even engage is offering reasons for a commandment, for example Christians will describe the hidden benefits of some of the stranger Levitical commands. We should be careful with this because the serpent may challenge our rationale, and we need to remember that the command is controlling, not the rationale.

Tactic 3: Cast aspersions on God’s motives.

Another tactic of the serpent is to cast aspersions on God’s motives for his command. ‘You will surely not die! The real reason for God’s command is that He knows you will become like him, knowing good from evil.’

This same statement is commonly recited now as ‘the reason for the commands of the church is that certain men wanted to keep everyone under their thumb.’ It was similarly stated that ‘Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having fun.’

The Woman should have kept in mind the benevolence of God as testified to by the goodness of the garden, and the goodness of God’s treatment of her and Man. Further, she appears to have had access to God, and she should have talked to him about it.

We similarly should keep in mind God’s goodness to us, the goodness of even a fallen creation, and the sacrifice of his Son when we’re tempted to doubt God’s goodness. We should also keep in mind that this is a common tactic of the serpent.


1) If you see any of these tactics, watch out! There may be a snake nearby.
2) Don’t answer the Devil’s questions; do theology with Christians, not the Devil.
3) Obey the command, regardless of the rationale.
4) Remember God’s goodness; don’t believe lies about his character.


Jeff said...

1) and 4) are spot-on. 2) I'll give you though I don't know where, exactly, I would fit in to this dichotomy - and besides, isn't it a commandment for y'all to "do theology" with non-Christians, thus hoping to sway them into salvation or whatever?

3) I have something of an issue with. Recall Abraham's haggling with God over the conditions for the destruction of Sdom. Recall Jacob's angel-wrestling and subsequent renaming as "Israel," which translates roughly as "one who struggles with God."

Sure, flat-out disobedience is likely to get you swallowed by a fish, but to not even question? Questioning commandments is what prevents injustice when they are unfairly applied. Back to Abraham and Sdom - when Abraham pointed out that destroying even ten righteous people because they lived in a city surrounded by wicked people was unjust, God acquiesced (it's a moot point that there turned out, alas, to be only Lot's family). Abraham was no serpent, but he questioned, and he scored points for justice by doing so. So as long as we don't lose sight of the fact that God is the final arbiter, don't completely pooh-pooh the questioning process.

Kenny said...

J - what I mean is that when we ask our questions it's important to know with whom we're talking. But I'm definitely not saying 'don't talk to non-Christians about your beliefs.'

I agree questioning has a lot of value and validity - but again, motive is huge.