The Consequences of the Covenant: the Serpent (Genesis 3:9-15)

We are going to get right into the story today because last week ended on a cliffhanger.

Last week, the high priest of the garden-temple broke the covenant God had made with him. He was supposed to protect the tree of the secret knowledge of what it is like to be God. But instead of protecting it, the priest stole some of the fruit for himself, in order to make himself more like God.

And the painful truth of it is this: the high priest — and his wife — have become more like God. Their eyes are opened. They are wiser than they were. But this wisdom has already come at a terrible cost, because they are now seeing a truth about themselves that they never saw before: they are seeing that they are not like God.

Before they ate the fruit all they understood was how much like God they are. But now that they have eaten the fruit — and have actually become even more like God — their new God-like wisdom has revealed just how unlike God they are. Before this, their Father was eternally faithful to the covenant, and so were they.

Now, their Father is still eternally faithful…and they are not.

So when they ate the fruit their eyes were opened and they saw themselves in a new way. And then they saw God in a new way, as he arrived riding upon the wind, riding upon the stormclouds of judgement.

And the last time we saw the man and his wife they were hiding from judgement…in the middle of the garden, right underneath the tree of knowledge. They are hiding right in the midst of the evidence of their sin.

And so: the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

And this is really quite remarkable. The Lord God has arrived in this terrifying form — but when he speaks, he speaks gently, like a good Father does when he wants to lead his children to conression and repentance.

And the man answers: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

We have to excuse the man: he’s not very good yet at covering up his sin. As we noticed last week, his conscience is still very tender. He is not yet a hardened pagan.

See, pagans are proud of their sin. A pagan would stand up before God here and say, “Yeah, you know what I’ve just discovered? I’m not perfect like you! I’m just being the animal you created me to be, so how can you judge me for that?”

But the man has not yet reached that point. He still feels shame. And basically, by admitting that he feels shame, he is admitting that he has done something shameful.

So his Father says, “Hmmmmm: Who told you that you were naked?

And then he invites the man to confess and take responsibility:

Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Now, we were all once little kids, and we have all seen little kids in action. They’re really not any good at concealing their sins, but they are born knowing how to blame others.

— really, as human beings, we have three basic strategies when it comes to dealing with our sin:

The entry level approach is hiding. That’s the first thing kids do, that’s the first thing we all do.

The next level, once we’ve been caught, is blaming someone else. “Yeah, I did it, but someone else made me.”

But then, after you’ve practiced hard enough, you eventually graduate to the Platinum Pagan Club level, where you decide that what you are doing is not sin at all: “Yeah, okay, you caught me. But it doesn’t matter because it’s not wrong. I’m not ashamed. You don’t have the right to judge me.” You can always tell when people are Platinum Pagan Club Members because they just sin openly, they don’t care anymore what anyone thinks — not even God.

So as we are about to see here, the man and his wife are going to graduate now from hiding to blaming:

[12] The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

In other words: “Yeah, I did it, but God it’s your fault for giving me a woman!”

Okay. No comment.

[13] Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

— gently inviting her to confess and take responsibility.

But the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

In other words: “Yeah, I did it, but God it’s your fault for creating a serpent!”

Okay. Well, obviously God is not going to agree that creating the serpent was the core of the problem.

Because, as we discussed last week, the serpent was nothing more than an untamed creature, just like all the other wild animals of the skies or the seas or the wilderness. The man’s job was to bring order to the earth, and order to the animal world. Some animals are easier to tame; some animals are harder to tame. The serpent was simply the hardest of all the wild animals. That’s all!

But at this point we are going to discover that there is a little more going on with this serpent than just an animal that is resistant to order.

See, the serpent was a creature designed by God to live in the wilderness outside the garden. It was the sort of creature designed to thrive in that kind of disorderly environment, in the same way fish were designed to thrive in the chaotic currents of the sea, and birds in the chaotic currents of the sky.

So the question we have to ask ourselves is: why did the serpent leave the disorderly wilderness where it was so comfortable, and enter the orderly garden where it just didn’t fit? What motivation drove it to deliberately seek out the woman and lead her toward disorder and disobedience?

Well, Moses did tell us last week that the serpent was more crafty than any of the other wild animals — but then we would expect the serpent’s craftiness to help it stay away from man’s control. Serpents, generally speaking, prefer isolation. They don’t deliberately seek out fellowship with other animals, and definitely not with human beings!

So, the more we think about this whole situation, the more we realize that this serpent was actually acting out of character. God had given the serpent an instinct for actively avoiding order, but somehow that instinct got twisted and used to actively seek out order and destroy it. It is almost as if — and, allow me to speculate a little bit here — it is almost as if some kind of outside force actually took hold of the serpent and used its natural God-given instincts to accomplish some evil purpose.

And this theory that the serpent is more than just a serpent is actually supported by what God does next — and by what he does not do.

Our first hint that the serpent is more than just a serpent actually comes from what God does not do: God does not simply destroy the serpent.

And this is really what we would expect him to do. Remember, the serpent is not made in the image of God, it did not have a covenant directly with God, so it cannot really be held accountable the way the man and the woman can. As an animal, the serpent is really a bit like a machine that is malfunctioning; it’s like a computer with corrupted software. Now, we don’t have covenants with our computers: they do exactly what we want, or we reboot them! Right? Simple as that. We don’t invite them to confess and repent, we don’t hold them accountable, we just shut them down! And that is what we would expect God to do here also.

But he doesn’t. Why not?

Well, let’s think about it this way: what if our computer’s malfunction is not just caused by corrupted software? What if our computer has actually been hacked by a virus, and is now under the control of someone else? If that is true, then rebooting it will not actually help. We would need an anti-virus, we would need a counter-hacker to hunt down the source of the virus and destroy that.

So the fact that God does not simply “reboot” the serpent is our first hint that the serpent is more than just a serpent: it has been hacked, and the hacker must be destroyed before the serpent can be safely shut down.

Our second hint that the serpent is more than just a serpent comes from what God does do:

[14] So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, ‘Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.’”

The serpent was “more crafty” than all the wild animals; now it is “more cursed” than all the animals. In the Hebrew, the words for “crafty” and “cursed” are only one letter different, so there is a deliberate wordplay here designed to catch our attention and teach us something: the craftiness of the serpent has led directly to its cursedness.

It was a proud, crafty creature, gifted at avoiding order, gifted at ruling itself in isolation from the rest of the animals.

Now it is a crawling, cursed creature, ruled over by all the other animals, hated and feared and trampled on by all the other animals. From now on the serpent will “eat dust” — which is a metaphor for its degradation (ancient people understood very well that snakes do not actually eat dirt).

But that is not all:

[15] “’And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.’”

The serpent was a proud, crafty creature, gifted enough to deceive the woman and rule over her and her husband long enough to destroy their covenant with God.

But from now on, the woman and her children are going to rule over the serpent again — and they are going to rule violently. In the generations to come, the woman’s children will be at constant war with the serpent’s children.

And how is this war going to end?

“‘He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’”

And it is this strangely worded sentence that confirms that the serpent is more than just a serpent.

See, God has just prophesied generations of warfare between the woman’s children and the serpent’s children. And we would expect him to finish the prophecy with, “And one day one of the woman’s distant descendants will finally crush the last of your distant descendants, serpents will be extinct and the war will be over!”

But that is not how God finishes the prophecy. This is what he says: “One day one of the woman’s distant descendants will finally crush your head!” — the original serpent’s head.

Did you catch the significance of that?

Moses is telling his readers that many generations of people will come and go, locked in battle with many generations of serpents that will come and go. But in the end, at the last battle — thousands and thousands of years later — the original serpent will still be there to be crushed.

Now, friends, let’s reason together: is Moses talking about a serpent that is just a serpent? Or is he talking about a serpent that is a shadow or a mask or a puppet for something — or someone! — that has an unnaturally long lifespan, something that is darker, craftier, more anti-order than any serpent can ever be?

So our second hint that the serpent is more than just a serpent comes from what God does say here: some day, many generations from this point, this very serpent will still be around; one of the woman’s sons is going to crush its head, and it is going to strike his heel.

So what God has done here, with this curse, is set up the program that will hunt down the hacker. If the serpent is a bit like a computer controlled by someone outside — someone bent on infecting as many computers as he can! — then the prophesied woman’s son is a bit like the Messianic counter-Hacker that will one day come and destroy the hacker so he can finally reboot the system properly.

And what God is prophesying here is that this war between the hacker and the Messianic counter-Hacker begins now. This serpent is going to produce children that will try to bring ever increasing disorder and disobedience into creation; this woman is going to produce children that will continue to try to bring ever-increasing order and obedience to creation; and their children are going to fight against one another all the way down through the ages until the end.

And the ancient people of Israel, when they heard this, would have applied it at once to their own situation. They know they are about to enter God’s promised land. They know that when they get there, the land will be full of pagan shrines, pagan temples, pagan practices: disorder and disobedience. They understand that they are going to have to enter into a very real, physical war in order to save the land from those who are polluting it and destroying it.

But they also understand that they are entering into a very real spiritual war against the pagan gods of that land: gods that love chaos and disobedience, gods that will use all the craftiness at their command to deceive God’s people and lead them to destroy God’s covenant.

So Moses’ people understood very clearly that this war he is describing has always been between the children of God and the children of the gods of chaos. They understood at once that the serpent here is not just a serpent, it is not just a malfunctioning animal — it is driven and controlled by a spiritual hacker that is absolutely opposed to God.

And this concept of an evil spiritual force developed over time. Moses’ people believed in evil spirits, they had seen and perhaps even participated in Egyptian pagan worship, so they understood that the spiritual powers at work there are very real.

But it is not clear that Moses’ people knew the name of the hacker himselt. They believed that every pagan nation was ruled by its own demon of chaos, but it was only around their time in Babylon that Jewish prophets began to speak clearly about one supreme commander over all the demons of chaos and death. They called his name Satan, the Accuser.

And even then it is only at the beginning of the New Testament that we see Satan become really active on the stage of redemptive history. We see him confront one man in particular: Jesus of Nazareth. We see this man, Jesus, go to war against Satan. Jesus wins. And the rest of the New Testament was written to explain what this victory means for humanity.

But it is not until the very end of the New Testament that we are told for certain what God’s people have suspected all along: the serpent in the garden was indeed more than just a serpent, it was Satan, the great dragon who leads the whole world astray.

So even though Moses’ people, when they first heard this story, would not have understood that the serpent is Satan in particular, they would have understood that the serpent is the shadow or the mask for an ancient spiritual pagan power. And so they would have understood God’s prophecy here to mean that one day a Messiah would come and put an end to all the forces of evil. He would bring the final order to the earth that Adam failed to do.

And there’s something else: Moses’ people would also have understood that even in the act of crushing the serpent’s head, this Messiah would lose his life. See, serpents — in the minds of ancient people — are all venomous. Ancient people understood very well that, even if a snake “only” bites you on the heel, you are going to die. They understood the power of poison and how quickly it spreads even from a non-vital part of the body. So they understood how infectious sin is — and that the prophesied Messiah would die from it.

And this would have taught them that the price of redemption from death is always a life exchanged for a life.

Okay. So what does this mean for us? What is our Father calling us to do or believe because of this scripture?

Well, in one sense, what this means for us is that the war is over. The prophesied Messiah came, and crushed the serpent — and died, exchanging his life for the life of any person who calls upon him for salvation.

So, if you are here today and you are not a Christian, then I have some bad news for you: your life is dominated by the dark gods of chaos. They are unyielding. They cannot be paid off. They will devour everything in your life, and in the end they will devour you. And if you haven’t yet experienced this reality, scripture promises that soon you will. Things are going to fall apart within you and around you.

But I also have some good news for you. When that happens — or if it is happening to you even now — then this is what God’s Word is telling you to do: call upon Jesus Christ, the one who crushed Satan’s head and exchanged his life for yours. Let him take away your burden of chaos and darkness and death, and let him give you life and peace instead.

Of course, for the rest of us who have already received the gifts of life and peace — well, many of us want to know, “Why am I not experiencing more life and peace?” We still have problems. We still experience temptation. And every week, here in worship, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together and ask our Father to deliver us from the Evil One — which is a little confusing, right? Because isn’t the Evil One crushed already? Isn’t the war over?

Well yes, the war is over — and it is not yet over.

See, the serpent is actually a very good symbol for what evil is like, on a number of levels. For instance, Moses told us that the serpent was more crafty than all the other wild animals, and it certainly embodies that concept with its sinuous, sneaky movement along the ground. So it makes sense that Satan’s deceptiveness should be represented physically by a serpent. And we have already noticed how serpents’ venom is as infectious and deadly as sin.

But there’s another thing about serpents that makes them very fit representations for evil: they take a long time to die. When I was a boy in Indonesia I killed a poisonous snake once by crushing its head with a rock — and the body kept moving for about an hour afterwards. Another time one of my friends chopped a viper’s head off with a parang, and he warned me not to touch it, because a decapitated viper’s head can still bite.

Ancient people also understood this about snakes. In the Greek myths, Hercules — a Greek hero — kills a dragon with a bow and arrow. The next day, Jason — another Greek hero — happens by and sees the body of the dragon still quivering. And the story goes that when Jason takes a closer look, he sees that the flies that feed on the dragon’s wounds die, poisoned by the dragon’s blood: the dragon is still deadly even though it is dead.

And this is exactly what scripture describes for us: Jesus has crushed Satan’s head. The serpent has been mortally wounded and deprived of most of its power — but it is not dead yet. It is still dangerous, still deadly.

Soooo…what does this mean for us, then? Are we still in danger?

Well, in one sense: no. The war has been won; we are no longer under Satan’s power. To put it another way: in Christ, we now have the power to crush Satan under our feet. Christians are safe from Satan’s possession, from Satan’s accusations, from Satan’s condemnations.

But in another sense: yes, we are still in danger. In the New Testament, Peter warns us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith!” We have the power to crush Satan’s head, but it is possible — if we are careless! — for him to bite us in the heel and poison our faith.

So, for those of us who have already received the gifts of life and peace through Christ, this is our application: fight wisely.

Fight wisely.

We are still called to war against Satan and his children. The fact that our King has already crushed the serpent’s head means that our victory is certain! But the fact that the serpent is still not dead yet means that the danger of being bitten is real.

So we need to fight wisely.

Which leads us to some very practical questions: how do we fight wisely? How can we tell when we are in danger of being bitten? How can we tell if we have already been bitten? And — very practically speaking — what are we supposed to do about that?

Well, the answers to those questions actually take up the rest of the bible. So — for the sake of simplicity! — we are just going to keep our focus here on Genesis, Chapter 3. The man and woman in the garden were the first to be bitten by the serpent, and so they offer us the simplest test case, we could say.

And what we find here in Genesis, Chapter 3, is one practical sign warning us when we are in danger of being bitten, and three practical signs warning us when we have already been bitten.

So, first, this was the warning sign that the man was in danger of being bitten: he allowed the serpent to change God’s Word. And that is always the first step toward disorder and disobedience. So if we sense within ourselves — or if we see in our friends or in our churches — a willingness to change God’s definitions of worship or sin or salvation or whatever, then, as Peter says: let us be alert and of sober mind! If we start thinking that the best way to stomp Satan’s head is by changing God’s Word, making it either stronger or softer — or both! — then those deadly fangs are already on the way. So watch out!

Next is the first sign that the man had been bitten: his sense of shame, his sense that he needed to hide from the Father who loves him. So, if we are experiencing that, if we are ashamed and afraid to enter into our Father’s presence, or if someone else is telling us that we ought to be ashamed, then: let us be alert and of sober mind! We need to take a good look and see if there is a good reason for our shame. And this is where knowing God’s Word very well helps us. Because sometimes Satan deceives us into feeling shame for things that are not actually sinful; sometimes people try to make us feel guilty for things that God’s Word says are not sins. So if we are experiencing shame, or if we are being told we ought to feel shame for one thing or another, we need to keep turning back to God’s Word to see if we are feeling shame for a real sin, or if we are being poisoned by a false shame, designed by Satan to separate us from God’s love.

And now this is the second sign that the man had been bitten: he blamed his wife, and blamed God. He refused to take responsibility for what he had done. So, if we find ourselves consistently defensive when we are caught in our sins, if we find ourselves trying to blame others or blame the circumstances or even blame God, then: let us be alert and of sober mind! Because the unwillingness to confess our sins and accept responsibility for them is a sign that we were actually bitten some time ago, and that the serpent’s venom is creeping up through our system, numbing us to the gravity of our sin. So watch out!

And now the third and last sign that the man had been bitten…is not actually found in this chapter, it is only implied. Because if God had not come and intervened and brought a stop to the serpent’s spreading venom, the man and his wife would have eventually graduated to Platinum Pagan Club Membership level, where they would have felt perfectly comfortable rewriting God’s Word completely, deleting any need to feel shame or to hide their sins at all.

Now, some of us are going to ask at this point, “Wait a minute, is it really possible for a Christian or a Christian church to actually reach  the Platinum Club level?”

Regrettably: yes. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah called this level the “Brazen Prostitute” level, and this is how he described God’s people: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush!”

And in the New Testament, writers called this level the “Hardened by Sin’s Deceitfulness” level, and this is is how they described it: “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. They promise other people freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.” And that warning in particular is a description of pastors and teachers and prophets who claim to be Christian.

So it is possible for a Christian to be bitten in the heel, and for those two little puncture marks to lead to death. This is how it happens: it always begins with one small sin, or one small violation of God’s Word, and we start by hiding it. Then, as the infection spreads through our system and becomes more obvious, we start to blame others for it. And then, after we have gotten really, really good at hiding and blaming, one day the serpent’s venom reaches our heart and completely numbs us to any sense of sin or shame. Just like the people of ancient Israel we come to worship with brazen faces, we sing and we praise Jesus and we have these deep emotional experiences and we learn so many deep truths from God’s Word! — and we walk away unchanged.

Friends, brothers and sisters, I am now going to tell you some very bad news: we have all been bitten. We are all in the process — somewhere someway somehow in our lives — of ignoring God’s Word, hiding our sins, blaming others, and even hardening our hearts. If it were not so, God’s prophets would not have warned us of the danger.

We do this in a thousand different ways. For instance, God’s Word tells us clearly that our kids need us to walk with them along the way. Instead, we work 120 hours a week! — and then we justify it by saying that we’re actually doing this for our kids. We blame the economy for making us work so hard. And eventually it gets so we’re not even ashamed of it anymore. Even pastors start boasting about how much time they spend “doing God’s work” — and then we wonder why our marriages have grown cold, why our families are dying.

Or in another case: God’s Word tells us clearly to be generous with those among us who are in need. Instead, there are brothers and sisters in our city that are without clothes and daily food, and yet we say, “Go in peace! Keep warm and well fed!” and we do nothing about their physical needs — and then we hide our greed by talking about the need for good stewardship…

If you are starting to feel guilty and uncomfortable…good! So am I. And we haven’t even mentioned sexual sins yet. I avoided those examples because those are the things we very easily feel ashamed of, and sometimes our shame for those sins ends up hiding the shame we also ought to feel for more socially acceptable sins like workaholism or stinginess. And on the other hand it’s often too easy to point at same-sex attraction or pornography or and then think in our hearts, “Oh, well, I may be a workoholic but at least I’m faithful to my wife!” I know we do this because I’ve done it myself — I still do. It’s too easy to hide our own sins from ourselves by comparing them to someone else’s sins. So I am deliberately trying make us take another look at our lives and feel ashamed of the ways we all fail to obey God’s clear commands.

So that’s the bad news. And the bad news is supposed to make us feel bad.

And the bad news is supposed to make us cry out for the good news.

We understand very clearly now from this passage what Christ wants us to do for him: fight wisely. We also understand that we don’t, that we can’t, that we were all infected with the serpent’s venom before we even got started. And so now we desperately want to understand from this passage what Christ has done for us.

This is what Christ has done for us — for every person who calls upon his name for salvation: he fought the war, and he took venom that was meant for us. He received the sting of death, and absorbed it all, and now is blood is the anti-venom, powerful enough to counteract the creeping poison of any kind of sin. As human beings we were all born poisoned by the blood of Adam, dying from the moment of birth. But as Christians, as the children of God, the blood of Christ that flows through our veins is neutralizing that ancient venom little by little. We are at war with Satan and his children — and that war is often fought most fiercely within our own bodies.

So now we all want to know: how do we activate and reactivate the power of the anti-venom that is already within us? What is the ultimate secret to fighting this war wisely?

Now that all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter: turn, and return, to the Saviour who fought and died for us.

If you are here today and God’s Word has recently revealed a new area of disobedience in your life, if you are discovering a new sense of shame for something you didn’t even know you needed to be ashamed about — don’t hide from that shame! Don’t blame someone else for that sin! Turn to Jesus, and he will receive you. Repent, and he will transform that area of your life. Perhaps not all at once, so don’t get impatient! But we will be transformed: that is Christ’s promise.

If you are here today and God’s Word is telling you that you ought to feel shame for some area of disobedience in your life — and yet you don’t feel shame — then be very afraid: the serpent’s venom is closing around your heart. If there is a sin in your life that, in your despair, you have decided to just give up on, then allow me to read you scripture’s most serious warning: “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts or you will perish in the wilderness without reaching the promised land.” And what this warning means is that even now — even now! — if you are hearing this Word from God, then even now you can still turn back to the Father who loves you. Ask Jesus to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, and he will do it. Perhaps not all at once! But don’t lose heart — we are all here to stand by your side in your personal war against that sin; and we need you also to stand with us.

The good news is that our war against the serpent is already won. The bad news is that we still have to fight. But the good news is that, no matter how badly we are wounded, there is life and peace and healing for all who keep their eyes fixed upon Jesus Christ.

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