THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM – PART II, SECTION II
AND FIRST PROMISE OF REDEMPTION
I. Genesis chapter 3 then describes the Fall, which is both a specific event and an allegory of all sin.
A. Having described
creation as good, the book of Genesis must now answer the question of
how evil came into the world. Chapter 3, building on the themes
of the garden and the trees in chapter 2, addresses this question.
1. In general,
men tend more to want to protect the status quo, or at least fix problems.
Thus, the temptation for Adam is more towards not doing anything, not
rocking the boat by challenging the serpent or Eve. Women tend
to want to improve people and things. Thus, the temptation is
more for Eve to listen to the serpent and see if she cannot improve
on their lot.
2. In this context,
we can understand St. Paul's advice to married couples, which emphasizes
obedience more for the woman (for women, like Eve, tend to want to be
involved in people's live more) and love more for the man (for men,
like Adam, tend to have more trouble showing love, and can think of
themselves as just if they simply do not harm others.)
II. The Bible describes the temptation and Fall in very brief, but very profound, order.
A. serpent shows up as the cleverest of all animals. Adam and Eve are innocent, but are clearly not forced into sin; they receive a temptation and choose how to respond.
1. There is often
a debate about whether the human author meant the serpent to be a natural
creature, or Satan. The Books of Wisdom and Revelation clearly
present this serpent as Satan. See Wis. 2:24; Rev. 12:9.
Some commentators argue, however, that there was no concept of Satan
that early on in Jewish thought. It is perhaps more accurate to
say that the early Jews did not draw a clear distinction between earthly
and spiritual beings, and would not have seen any point in asking whether
the serpent was an animal or an angel. The passage clearly presents
him as more than a normal animal, for he can speak and apparently stand
up straight (for the punishment of crawling is doled out later.)
1. If they were
clothed with the light of glory, the loss of that glory would explain
why after the Fall they realize they were naked.
2. There is a
play on words here. The serpent is described with the Hebrew term
aram, which means subtle, clever, or crafty. Adam and Eve are
described with the Hebrew term arom, which means nakedness. This
notion reflects innocence and a reflection of their natural glory.
1. First, the serpent distorts God's commandment, asking whether God forbade eating the fruit of any of the trees, which suggests that God did not want Adam and Eve to enjoy anything. It is classic of tempters to misconstrue God's commandments making them seem more difficult than they are.
- The serpent
refers to God simply as Elohim, not Yahweh, as the text does.
Yahweh is the sacred name of God, so sacred to ancient Jews that only
the high priest would pronounce it once a year, could not be pronounced
by the serpent.
- Even here,
she makes three mistakes. Most obviously, she gets the command
a little confused by saying God forbade even touching the fruit on penalty
of death; He had forbidden only eating it. Second, more subtly
and more importantly, she forgets about the Tree of Life when she says
that God prohibited eating from the tree in the middle of the garden.
For there were two trees there, one forbidden and one life-giving.
Even more subtly and more importantly, she only thinks about the prohibitions,
not God's generosity in providing all of the other trees, including
the Tree of Life. While not falling for the full error, she subtly
and unconsciously buys into the focus on prohibitions, not gifts.
- After eating
the fruit, they do in one sense become like God, knowing good and evil,
as God Himself affirms in verse 22. However, the progress is not
in keeping with God's plans and thus comes at a terrible price.
It is the essence of pride, the queen of the vices, to desire and grasp
at an excellence one is not meant to have and to be independent of God.
See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, question 162,
article 1, 8.
- The serpent
thus mixes true and false together to make the temptation more deceptive.
A flatly false statement is often easy to detect, while an admixture
of truth and falsity can be more tempting.
- The serpent
does not make this threat directly, probably because doing so would
have forced Adam, as a matter of honor, to oppose him. Rather,
by subtly introducing the threat, he probably gets Adam to believe that
he can intervene later.
8. Eve's failure
is the failure of prayer. She engages the serpent in conversation
and lets her curiosity tempt her. Adam's sin is more bluntly
a matter of cowardice. He fails to instruct and defend Eve; he
fails to take on the serpent, very possibly out of a fear of death;
and he fails to resist when she tempts him.
1. Now the light
of glory is gone and the nakedness of Adam and Eve is revealed.
They thus make a foolish effort to hide from God. As Jesus will
say later, those who do evil deeds seek darkness as cover. See
do receive a knowledge of good and evil, but that knowledge leads to
a. The question
of where they are is not only physical, as they think, but also spiritual.
God is calling upon them to reflect upon where they are with Him.
b. Adam and Eve do not try to argue that their actions are right, for in the presence of God, this argument is no longer tenable. In a similar way, actions that seem acceptable when one is ignoring God become clearly wrong in His presence. Rather, recognizing the evil of their actions, they make excuses. These excuses are not actual lies, but they are rather irrelevant and evade the real issue, their free choice to sin.
blames both Eve for tempting him and God for creating Eve, not recognizing
his own fault. Eve seems to think that the fact that she
was tempted is an excuse.
III. God then describes the consequences of sin, but also a note of hope. These statements of God could be considered a punishment inflicted by God, or simply the natural result of sin.
A. God first punishes the serpent in two ways, by making him crawl on the ground and eat dirt and by the promise that his head will be crushed by the woman or her offspring.
1. The punishment
of crawling on the ground, on one level, represents the literal meaning
that snakes, a symbol of the devil, crawl, rather than walk, as perhaps
ancestors of snakes did, and certainly as mythical dragons would.
At a deeper level, the devil's abilities are limited precisely because
of man's reduced ability to access the spiritual realms; his main
attack will now have to be concentrated at a lower level.
2. The punishment
of war between the serpent and the woman and his offspring and hers
implies defeat for the serpent, for he can strike only at the heal,
while the woman and her offspring strike at his head. We can now
see the fulfillment of this punishment in the devil's ability to kill
Jesus Christ in the physical body, but His final triumph over the devil.
As the Vatican II Council said, "The earliest documents, as they are
read in the church and are understood in the light of further and full
revelation, bring the figure of a woman, mother of the Redeemer, in
a gradually clearer light. Considered in this light, she is already
prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of a victory over the serpent
which was given to our first parents after the Fall." Lumen
Gentium 55; see Rev. 12.
3. It is noteworthy
that the punishment of the serpent, and the implication of final victory
over him, is placed before the punishment of Adam and Eve. God's
saving power is greater than the punishment that comes from His justice.
B. God describes
to the woman two related results of the sin, pain in childbirth (representing
the difficulty of raising children generally) and pain in relations
with men. The focus is on a conflict between people, the difficulty
in loving others. Obviously men also suffer from strained relationships,
but the desire for relationships is greater for women, and thus this
punishment falls more on women than on men.
C. God punishes Adam in three related ways: (1) work will be more toilsome; (2) the earth will no longer obey him; and (3) he will die. Once again, women also suffer from these things. However, because of men's greater desire for accomplishment in making things, frustration in work and weakness leading to death is generally more difficult to take.
1. Earth itself suffers because of man's misdeeds. See Rom. 8:19-23. Sin has consequences in all of creation.
- If Eve
would become subject to Adam from whom she was taken, Adam will become
subject to the earth, from which he was taken.
1. First, Adam
and Eve seemingly reconcile, with Adam now naming Eve, whose name means
mother. She receives this title even before giving birth; Adam
is beginning to see her in a new light, and looks for children to make
up for at least part of what is lost by sin.
4. It appears that Adam and Eve also reconciled with God, for after the birth of their first son, they give thanks to Him. It is generally thought in Christian tradition that Adam and Eve died in God's grace.