A Meditation on Genesis 3:14-15
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not what it appeared to be. Instead of being the door into Paradise, it actually became the door leading out of Paradise, and into misery. The serpent led Eve, with Adam passively following, to believe that there would be no negative repercussions for their one little act of defiance. Of course Satan didn’t refer to it as defiance, but as enlightenment. But the serpent, Adam and Eve were all in for a rude awakening. They had not anticipated the curse that was about to fall on their heads. They never dreamed that a judicial penalty would be rendered against them for violating the terms of the covenant.
In Genesis 3:9-19, we find this chiastic structure: man-woman-serpent-woman-man. Chiasm is a literary device that stresses the center portion. This puts the emphasis on the curse on the serpent. Chiasm says, “This is crucial; don’t overlook it.” And as we will see, there’s a reason why Martin Luther said, “This text [vs. 15 especially] embraces and comprehends within itself everything noble and glorious that is to be found anywhere in the Scripture.”
God interrogated Adam, and then He interrogated Eve, but no question is directed to the serpent. This is because the serpent is not offered an opportunity to repent. He is simply cursed and condemned without hope or the possibility of redemption.
The curse that fell upon the serpent can be divided into two parts. First, the animal is cursed. “The LORD said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life’” (vs. 14). The animal Satan used is cursed, although it’s not held morally responsible for its actions. In other words, this animal will not stand before its Creator at the final judgment. This animal was merely a passive instrument manipulated by the evil one; nevertheless God still curses it for its involvement. I believe the lesson here is that “the devil made me do it” is never an acceptable excuse, even for amoral animals, much less morally responsible human beings.
I can still remember a well-known televangelist, who indulged in gross immorality, trying to explain away his behavior, because he was temporarily under the control of the devil. That doesn’t fly. “Satan entered into Judas” (Lk. 22:3), and then he betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver. This didn’t mean he wasn’t liable for his actions (Lk. 22:22). Consider also Peter. After Jesus told him about how he would go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised, Peter pulls Him aside and rebukes Him. “But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’” (Matt. 16:23). We’re not told that Satan “entered” Peter, but it is clear that Peter is being used by Satan, and it is no excuse for his behavior.
Due to the serpent’s role in the fall, this animal is cursed. God says, “[O]n your belly you shall go.” Isaiah 14:29 refers to a “flying fiery serpent.” Revelation 12:9 equates the ancient serpent with “the great dragon.” Whether this animal was a snake or a dragon, it will no longer soar through the air, now it will slither on the ground, along with other detestable creatures. The LORD told Israel, “Whatsoever crawls on its belly…you shall not eat, for they are detestable” (Lev. 11:42).
As if crawling on his belly wasn’t bad enough, God also says, “and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” “Eating dust” ever since has been a symbol of defeat and subjection. In relation to the restoration of Israel, God says in Isaiah 49:23, “Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
Likewise, in Micah 7:15-17, we read, “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things. The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God, and they shall be in fear of you.” And, speaking of the coming Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, Psalm 72:8-9 says, “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust!” Again, eating or licking dust is a symbol of defeat and shame, and this is the curse brought on the serpent.
~Pastor Wayne Christensen