Leadership Is a Privilege, Not a Right

1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” – Malachi 2:1-9 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been given the special privilege of serving God with the responsibility of overseeing the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood.

“Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi—your ancestral tribe—to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant.

“You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the Lord’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for service in the Tabernacle.” – Numbers 18:1-2, 5-6 NLT

But at the time Malachi penned his prophetic pronouncement, the Levitical priesthood was guilty of neglecting its duties and treating its priestly responsibilities as a burden and not a blessing. The men given the responsibility of caring for God’s house found their duties to be a drudgery, not a delight. They even claimed, “It’s too hard to serve the Lord” (Malachi 1:13 NLT) and rejected God’s commands as too difficult and burdensome. In a real sense, their hearts were not in their work, and that is exactly what God has to say about their behavior.

“If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2 ESV

God expected heartfelt obedience to His commands, and His emphasis on the condition of their hearts was meant to reveal the true nature of their problem. This wasn’t a case of simple neglect or poor planning. Their failure to follow through on their commitment wasn’t due to overwork or lack of resources. They simply didn’t have the heart for it because their hearts were far from God.

“The word ‘heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” – Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.

These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead, they were setting a dangerous precedent for those under their care. If the restored remnant of Israel was going to survive their return to Judah and enjoy the blessings God had in store for them, it would only happen if the priests faithfully fulfilled their God-given responsibilities. But God’s priests were guilty of the very same sin that had led to Israel’s banishment from Judah in the first place.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men. – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God holds spiritual leaders to a higher standard because, as His shepherds, they are responsible for the care of His flock. They serve as His undershepherds and must give an account for the way they have nurtured those under their care. And as for the Levitical priests, they were also responsible for the sacrificial system God had decreed.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:2, 9 NLT

Malachi delivers God’s stinging rebuke to these heartless and faithless priests, warning them that they were about to be cursed for their infidelity.

“I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile.” – Malachi 2:3 NLT

“The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God was threatening to use their defiled sacrifices to defile them. He would no longer allow them to defame His name by their failure to execute their priestly responsibilities with integrity and honor. In a sense, God was warning that He was about to clean house. He remained committed to His covenant with the tribe of Levi.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

But these particular men had forfeited their right to serve as God’s priests. And when God’s curse fell on them, they would finally understand the gravity of their sin and the sacredness of the priestly role they had once held. And God provides them with a much-needed reminder of how their forefathers had faithfully lived up to their job description, bringing God’s blessings upon the people.

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. – Malachi 2:5-6 NLT

God had kept His word and restored a remnant of His disobedient people to the land of Judah. Seventy years after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had sovereignly arranged for King Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed a small band of exiled to make the long journey home and begin the restoration of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the walls had been rebuilt, the gates rehung, and the temple had risen majestically from the rubble. And the priests had been given the opportunity to renew their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel, providing instruction in the law and overseeing the recently reinstituted sacrificial system. Yet, despite all the blessings God had poured out on the nation of Israel, the priests had dropped the ball.

“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:8 NLT

It’s essential to understand the serious nature of their sin. These men had not just led poorly, they had purposefully misled and misguided the people. Their teaching of the law had been inaccurate and confusing. They were guilty of misinterpreting and misrepresenting God’s commands, causing the people to unknowingly violate the will of God. Their propensity to offer unacceptable sacrifices meant that the peoples’ sins were never really atoned for. Unlike their forefathers, these men were liars and cheats, living unrighteous lives and causing the people to follow their example. And God was unwilling to allow their devastating actions to continue any longer.

“So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” – Malachi 2:9 NLT

According to Numbers 18:32, their penalty should have been death, but God had chosen to punish them by diminishing their stature in the eyes of the people. Their fall from God’s good grace would be painful and swift. They had been set apart by God and given the responsibility of leading and feeding His flock. But they had ended up treating both their position and God’s flock with disdain. After 70 years in exile, the people of God desperately needed solid biblical instruction, godly leadership, and a sacrificial system that provided true atonement from sin. But these men provided none of the above. They twisted God’s words, misled His flock, and defiled the very sacrifices that should have brought atonement to God’s people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Learning to Recognize God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” – Malachi 1:2-5 ESV

Whether we can accurately determine Malachi’s identity or not is irrelevant. What is important is that the author more than lives up to his God-given title of “my messenger.” Every word he has recorded is a message from Yahweh to His covenant people, the nation of Israel. For generations, these descendants of Abraham had enjoyed a unique, one-of-a-kind relationship with God that had made them the beneficiaries of His love and blessings. God had set them apart and declared them to be His prized possession, among all the nations of the earth. When He had successfully freed them from their 400-year captivity in Egypt, God had led them to Mount Sinai, where He spoke to Moses and delivered give the following message:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

And the people had eagerly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). Even before God had communicated the terms of the covenant, they had agreed to keep it. They liked the idea of being God’s treasured possession, so they wholeheartedly declared their intentions to keep whatever conditions He set forth. But it was three days later that God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai and delivered the content of the covenant agreement to which they had already pledged their allegiance.

When Moses returned from the mountaintop, he shared with the people all that God had told him.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:3-8 ESV

Moses revealed to the nation of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the associated laws that were intended to regulate their behavior as God’s chosen people. This God-ordained code of conduct was a non-negotiable regulatory document that would distinguish the nation of Israel from all the other nations of the earth. As long as they remained obedient to the covenant, they would be blessed. But should they choose to disobey, they would find themselves suffering severe and inescapable consequences.

But the history of the people of Israel reveals their epic failure at keeping their word. Once God had successfully planted them in Canaan, the land He had promised as their inheritance, they began to reveal their propensity for disobedience and unfaithfulness. They repeatedly violated the terms of the covenant and, despite constant warnings from God, they refused to repent and return to Him. Generation after generation carried on a dangerous love affair with the world and its many false gods, choosing the snub their noses in the face of the one true God. And eventually, God was forced to fulfill His warnings of retribution and destruction. That is why they had spent 70 years living as captives in the land of Babylon. God had warned them time and time again that He would remove them from the land of promise if they continued to violate His covenant and, in 587 B.C., the Babylonians had overrun the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and taken thousands of its citizens back to Babylon as slaves.

At the time Malachi wrote his message from God, a remnant of the exiles had been living back in Judah for years. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the temple had been restored, and the sacrificial system had been renewed, but the people remained just as rebellious and disobedient as ever. So, through His “messenger,” God delivered a powerful reminder of His unrequited love and patience with his stubborn people.

Through Malachi, God declared the reality of His steadfast, unwavering love. Despite all they had suffered over the last 70 years, He had never fallen out of love with them. “I have always loved you,” He reminded them. And even their time in exile had been an expression of His affection because “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV).

But the people had a difficult time viewing the destruction of their city and their seven-decade-long internment in Babylon as evidence of God’s love, so they asked, “Really? How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2 NLT). From their perspective, it appeared as if God was angry with them and, even now, they suffered constant threats from their enemies and lived in a city that was little more than a shadow of its former glory. They had no king, no standing army, and little hope of ever seeing their fate reversed. As a result, they were distrustful of God, questioning His goodness and doubting His word concerning their wellbeing.

So, God reminded them of how they came to be His chosen people in the first place. He took them back to the births of Esau and Jacob, the twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. Malachi’s audience knew the story well. Before the boys were born, God had told Rebekah that the infants inside her womb represented two separate nations.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God informed Rebekah that the younger of the two boys would become the greater nation. According to tradition, the elder son should have been the recipient of the father’s inheritance and the one to bear the blessing of the firstborn. But, through a series of somewhat underhanded, but clearly God-ordained events, Jacob, the younger of the two siblings, would become the next in line to receive the inheritance that had been passed down through Abraham to Isaac. Jacob had been “loved” by God.

“When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cf. Psalm 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born…” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God had chosen to break precedence and set apart Jacob rather than Esau, and it had nothing to do with either boy’s value or worthiness. In fact, the apostle Paul points out the undeserving nature of either child and explains the sovereign nature of God’s will concerning His decision.

…before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

From a human perspective, it appears as if God showed greater favor to one son while disfavoring the other. But God did not completely abandon Esau. He simply chose to make His covenant commitment to the descendants of Jacob. God eventually gave Esau the land of the hill country, located around Moun Seir in Edom. In a sense, God blessed Esau by providing him with land as an inheritance, but Esau would prove to be unfaithful and idolatrous. His descendants, the Edomites, would be a constant thorn in the side of the Israelites. And when the Babylonians invaded the region, the Edomite cities and towns were also destroyed.

And when the Edomites declared their intent to reclaim and rebuild their devastated homeland, God warned them that he would prevent them from doing so.

“They may try to rebuild, but I will demolish them again. Their country will be known as ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people will be called ‘The People with Whom the Lord Is Forever Angry.’ – Malachi 1:4 NLT

The Edomites would become an illustration of the futility and hopelessness that faces all those who are not in a covenant relationship with God. The only reason the Israelites had been able to return to the land and rebuild their former capital was that God had ordained it. The decree set forth by King Cyrus of Persia that had allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem had been God’s doing. He had orchestrated it all. And, in doing so, He had proved His love for His chosen people yet again.

As the Israelites looked around them, they would soon realize that none of the neighboring nations that had fallen to the Babylonians would experience the same degree of revitalization as they had. Not even the Edomites, the descendants of Isaac, would ever rebuild their cities or reestablish their hold on the land. And this should have caused the Israelites to declare, “Truly, the Lord’s greatness reaches far beyond Israel’s borders!” (Malachi 1:5 NLT).

Both the Israelites and the Edomites were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and both had suffered the judgment of God, having been destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century. Yet only Israel had enjoyed restoration after judgment. Despite what appeared to be their less-than-ideal circumstances, the Israelites were experiencing the love of God in the form of His covenant commitment. He had restored them just as He said He would do and He was not yet done blessing them. But, as the following verses will reveal, God did expect to see significant changes among His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Two Deaths, A Birth, and a New Beginning

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. 17 And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” 18 And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20 and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. 21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

27 And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. 28 Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. 29 And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.  Genesis 35:16-29 ESV

After worshiping God at Bethel, Jacob, now going by his new name, Israel, made his way to the town of Ephrah, better known as Bethlehem. But along the way, his wife, Rachel, went into labor, and gave birth to her second child. But her labor proved to be difficult and she failed to survive the delivery. Just before her death, Rachel was able to verbalize her choice for the baby’s name: Ben-oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” But Israel, while grieved by his wife’s unexpected death, chose to see the positive side of this momentous occasion, and named his new son, Benjamin, which means, “Son of my good fortune.” From his perspective, the loss of his wife was balanced by the birth of his son. His memory of Rachel would always be associated with Benjamin, the son of his good fortune. In a sense, Israel was glorifying the fact that God had brought life from death.

It should not be overlooked that, at one time, the formerly barren Rachel had demanded that her husband do something about her condition. She desperately wanted to bear a child and, somehow, held him responsible for her condition.

When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” – Genesis 30:1 NLT

While Jacob was incapable of doing anything about his wife’s dilemma, God graciously stepped in.

Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. And she named him Joseph, for she said, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family.” – Genesis 30:22-24 NLT

And it’s interesting to note that God also answered her prayer, providing her with “another son” as per her request. But while she had believed that her ongoing barrenness would be her ultimate undoing, it was actually the bearing of children that would result in her death. In a way, her barrenness had been a divine form of protection. She had survived her first delivery, but the second one proved to be deadly.

After having provided Rachel with a proper burial, Israel continued his journey to Bethlehem, where he settled for a time. And somewhere near Bethlehem, “the house of bread,” Israel would experience a devastating breakdown in family etiquette. Reuben, his firstborn son born to him by Leah, committed an act immorality with Bilhah, his father’s concubine.

Moses provides no explanation for Reuben’s actions. But, besides the obvious motivation of sexual satisfaction, there is probably more going on here than meets the eye. By committing incest with Bilhah, Reuben may have hoped to diminish her status in Israel’s eyes. With Rachel dead, Reuben’s mother, Leah, would have assumed the role of favored wife. And his illicit affair with Bilhah would assured that she was seen as damaged goods in his father’s eyes. But there is also a good chance that his actions were meant to declare his rightful role as the firstborn son and, therefore, heir to the role of leadership over the clan.

This kind of thing would not have been rare or unexpected. In fact, we see one of Israel’s descendants playing out that very scenario in the book of 2 Samuel. Absalom, the eldest son of King David, aspired to his father’s throne. So, Ahithophel, a former advisor to King David, gave him some advice that he guaranteed would help make his dream come true.

“Go and sleep with your father’s concubines, for he has left them here to look after the palace. Then all Israel will know that you have insulted your father beyond hope of reconciliation, and they will throw their support to you.” So they set up a tent on the palace roof where everyone could see it, and Absalom went in and had sex with his father’s concubines. – 2 Samuel 16:21-22 NLT

Reuben’s actions, while unexplained, were immoral and ungodly. And they mirror the behavior of Shechem, who allowed his lust to get the best of him and ended up raping Dinah, the only daughter of Israel. He eventually died for his behavior but there is no indication that Reuben faced any repercussions for his crime. In keeping with the inaction he displayed at Shechem’s defilement of Dinah, Israel did nothing to avenge his Bilhah’s honor. It appears that Reuben went unchallenged and unpunished for his actions, and his name appears alongside all the other brothers in the brief genealogy found in verses 22-26.

These are the names of the twelve sons of Jacob: The sons of Leah were Reuben (Jacob’s oldest son), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant, were Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant, were Gad and Asher. These are the names of the sons who were born to Jacob at Paddan-aram. – Genesis 35:22-26 NLT

But there is more to the story than Moses relates. It is not until he penned the book of 1 Chronicles that Moses divulged the consequences for Reuben’s actions, and they were severe. Like Esau, Reuben threw away his birthright in a moment of passion.

The oldest son of Israel was Reuben. But since he dishonored his father by sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, his birthright was given to the sons of his brother Joseph. For this reason, Reuben is not listed in the genealogical records as the firstborn son. The descendants of Judah became the most powerful tribe and provided a ruler for the nation, but the birthright belonged to Joseph. – 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 NLT

His little fling cost him dearly. And if he had been hoping to prove his superiority over his father by forcibly raping his concubine, he had made an epic error in judgment. A mistake he would regret for the rest of his life.

But, while Reuben would pay dearly for his lack of judgment, he would hold no grudge against Joseph, his younger brother who inherited his birthright. In fact, as the story unfolds, it will be Reuben who attempts to protect the life of Joseph when his brothers plot to murder him.

But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. – Genesis 37:21-22 NLT

But that’s another story for another day. In this chapter, the defilement of Bilhah is followed by the death of Isaac. At some point, Israel made the long-delayed trip back to Hebron, to visit his aging father. And he made it just in time because, having lived 180 years, Isaac was knocking on death’s door.

With the death of Isaac, the entire focus of the narrative turns to Israel. the son of Isaac formerly known as Jacob. God was bringing the fulfillment of His promise full circle. It had passed from Abraham to Isaac and would now belong to Israel (Jacob). And as Isaac’s two sons buried his body, the stage was set for the next phase of God’s grand plan for the further fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Perilous Plans of Man

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Genesis 16:1-4 ESV

To understand this chapter, one must remember the promise that God reiterated to Abram at the beginning of chapter 15.

“This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 ESV

Abram had become convinced that, due to his wife’s barrenness, the only way God could fulfill His promise to give Abram more descendants than there are grains of sand on the seashore, was if Abram adopted his servant, Eliezer as his heir. But God deemed that option as unacceptable. The divine plan would not be based on a household servant or even a blood-relative such as Lot. God was emphatic that the heir He had in mind would be a child born to Abram and Sarai.

Abram had expressed his strong doubts about God’s plan by stating, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:3 ESV). In other words, he had reached the conclusion that, for God’s plan to be fulfilled, there would need to be a work-around. Yet, that’s when God had informed Abram that his very own son would be his heir. And that’s when God confirmed His statement by commanding Abram: “number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he assured Abram, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).

With this as a backdrop, chapter 16 begins to make more sense. Moses opens the chapter begins with a statement that is, excuse the pun, pregnant with meaning.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. – Genesis 16:1 ESV

Despite all the assurances from God, Abram still found himself fatherless and struggling with doubt concerning the promise of abundant offspring. At this point in his life’s journey, he had no children and, therefore, no tangible evidence that God was going to do what He had promised to do. If anything, from Abram’s point of view, he continued to face a hopeless situation that appeared to have no chance of fulfillment. At this point in the story, Abram had been living in Canaan for an extended period of time. Yet, he still owned no property and his wife had born him no heir. In other words, not much had changed since the day he had arrived in the land of Canaan from his home in Haran.

This where it gets interesting. Sarai, the one whose infertility seemed to be throwing a wrench into God’s plan, decided to come up with her own solution to the problem. There is a palpable sense of guilt in this passage. Sarai felt personally responsible for the predicament in which her husband found himself. As his wife, she had, quite literally, failed to deliver. She had given him no son. In a sense, she was burdened by her inability to produce an heir and felt compelled to come up with an alternative plan. And Moses reveals the logic behind her thinking.

She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. – Genesis 16:2 ESV

Since God had refused to consider Eliezer because he was not a blood-born son of Abram, she reasoned that there was another way to fulfill God’s requirement with a little ingenuity. If Abram was to impregnate Hagar, any son she delivered would be a true son of Abram and not an adopted servant or nephew like Lot. Since she viewed herself as the problem, she decided to remove herself from the equation.

But up to this point, Sarai had been a major player in the story of Abram’s call and commission to move his family to Canaan. Chapter 12 reveals that “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife… ” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). Sarai had always been part of the plan. And God knew all about her inability to bear children. In fact, Moses made it clear in chapter 11 that, even before Abram left Haran, Sarai’s problem was readily apparent.

Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children. – Genesis 11:30 NLT

None of this was a surprise to God. He knew and had planned for Sarai’s infertility. As the sovereign God of the universe, her physical disability was a preordained circumstance through which God was going to reveal His power and presence. He was going to prove to Abram and Sarai that He was the God of the impossible.

But in a sincere attempt to help God out, Sarai shared her ingenious idea with Abram.

“The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” – Genesis 16:2 NLT

And according to Moses’ account, “Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal” (Genesis 16:2 NLT).  One can almost get the impression that Abram quickly and, rather eagerly, bought into his wife’s plan. He doesn’t question her suggestion or argue with the potential efficacy of the arrangement. He simply decides to play along.

So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan). – Genesis 16:3 NLT

In an attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise, Sarai decided to share her husband with another woman.

“It was a serious matter for a man to be childless in the ancient world, for it left him without an heir. But it was even more calamitous for a woman: to have a great brood of children was the mark of success as a wife; to have none was ignominious failure. So throughout the ancient East polygamy was resorted to as a means of obviating childlessness. But wealthier wives preferred the practice of surrogate motherhood, whereby they allowed their husbands to ‘go in to’ . . . their maids, a euphemism for sexual intercourse (cf. 6:4; 30:3; 38:8, 9; 39:14). The mistress could then feel that her maid’s child was her own and exert some control over it in a way that she could not if her husband simply took a second wife.” – Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pg. 7

But unbeknownst to Sarai, her decision would have long-term ramifications, not only for she and Abram, but for their future descendants as well, and for generations to come. As Eve convinced Adam to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit of the true of the knowledge of good and evil, so Sarai convinced Abram to question God’s word and fulfill the promise through purely human and fleshly means. Hagar was never intended to be the vessel through whom God would work. She was a surrogate or substitute, chosen by a barren woman who was so desperate to have a child that she would do anything.

Sarai truly believed this was a good idea. But when her husband “had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant” (Genesis 15:4 NLT), Sarai quickly discovered just how flawed her plan really was. Abram’s encounter with Hagar produced immediate results, which must have enhanced Sarai’s feelings of inadequacy. And, to make matters worse, Hagar flaunted her pregnancy in  Sarai’s face. 

…when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. – Genesis 16:4 NLT

Hagar sensed that, with her pregnancy, she had been elevated to a position of primacy in Abram’s household. No longer a mere maidservant, Hagar relished her new role as the seed-bearer to Abram. She believed she would be the one to fulfill the promise of God and bring Abram the offspring for whom he long been waiting. Jealousy and an unhealthy atmosphere of competition crept into Abram’s household, and it was not long before his wife’s clever plan produced some disheartening and difficult decisions for God’s servant.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Unfathomable Ways of God

1 These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.

The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim.

15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. Genesis 10:1-20 ESV

Noah lived a long and fruitful life. For 950 years, this righteous and blameless man had walked with God. No, he had not been perfect or sinless. But he had stood out from the rest of his generation as a man who had a heart for God. And, as a result, Noah found favor with God. He and the members of his immediate family were chosen by God and graciously given a chance to survive the judgment that God poured out on the world. They alone had lived before and after the devastation of the flood. After assessing the pervasive presence of wickedness amongst mankind, God had decided to destroy His creation and start over. With this small remnant of humanity and a relative sampling of the rest of the living creatures, God rebooted the entire creation project.

In Genesis 10, Moses provides another genealogical listing designed to emphasize this new phase of God’s plan. The first genealogy is found in chapter five and covers the family tree of Adam all the way to Noah. Now, Moses picks up the story of mankind’s expansion by chronicling the family trees of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Noah eventually died, but his three sons would continue to fulfill God’s mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Humanity would continue to use its God-given capacity to procreate. Just as Adam and Eve had born children, so would these three men. And, as Moses makes clear, “Sons were born to them after the flood” (Genesis 10:1 ESV). Life continued. But as will soon become readily evident, so did sin.

From this one man, Noah, would come all the nations of the world. And though he was a man who walked with God, his descendants would show a stubborn capacity to walk away from God. The further the narrative gets away from the story of Eden, the greater the distance grows between God and mankind. As humanity multiplies and spreads across the earth, its desire for autonomy and independence from God will increase exponentially.

Yet, God had a strategy in place. He was working behind the scenes to preserve a faithful remnant through whom He could bring about His ultimate redemptive plan for the world. The genealogical lists found in Genesis 10 are intended to display God’s sovereign power and glory. The births recorded in this chapter are meant to emphasize God’s providential orchestration of all things. He was divinely determining the trajectory of mankind, creating from the three sons of Noah all the future nations of the world. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses encouraged the people of Israel to consider God’s sovereign authority over the nations.

Remember the days of old;
    consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
    your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
    when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
    according to the number of the sons of God. – Deuteronomy 32:7-8 ESV

And many centuries later, the apostle Paul would reemphasize the undeniable sovereignty of God over the affairs of mankind.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” – Acts 17:26-28 ESV

In the lengthy list of names found in Genesis 10, Moses provides a series of not-so-subtle hints, designed to explain to his readers the origins of some of the nations of their day. In the family tree of Ham, Moses reveals the genesis of Babel, the city that would later become known as Babylon. Of course, that same family tree contains the name of Canaan, the son of Ham whom Noah had cursed. From this son would come the Canaanites, the people group who would occupy the land that God would later promise to Abraham as his inheritance. In verse 12 is mentioned the city of Nineveh, which would later become the capital of the Assyrian empire, the nation that God would eventually use to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. Verse 14 contains the name of the Philistines, another people group that would prove to be a constant thorn in the side of God’s chosen people.

Moses also points out that Canaan became the father of “the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites” (Genesis 10:16-18 ESV). This list of names would have been very familiar to Moses’ audience. Among this list are the names of the nations that God had promised to defeat so that Moses and the people of Israel could occupy the land of Canaan.

The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” – Exodus 33:1-3 ESV

Moses is assuring his people that God had been behind the creation of these various nations. Their formation had not been a byproduct of chance or serendipity. They had been divinely ordained. And while many of these nations would eventually become the enemies of Israel, they would be completely under the authority and dominion of God Almighty. There was a purpose for their existence and it had been determined by God.

And Moses provides one last “hint” in his genealogical record of Ham’s family tree. In verse 19, he describes the eventual territorial boundaries of the Canaanites. And in his description, he includes the names of two infamous cities that would play an important role in the history of Israel: Sodom and Gomorrah.

The family tree of Ham includes such names as Egypt, Canaan, Babel, Assyria, Nineveh, Canaan, Sodom, and Gomorrah. The Jewish readers to whom Moses wrote would have flinched at the mention of these names. They were laden with significance and represented important milestones in the history of the Jewish people. And yet, Moses is painstakingly proving that these various nations and cities were the byproduct of God’s sovereign will. A point he emphasizes when he writes, “These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations” (Genesis 10:20 ESV).

“The table of nations is a ‘horizontal’ genealogy rather than a ‘vertical’ one (those in chapters 5 and 11 are vertical). Its purpose is not primarily to trace ancestry; instead, it shows political, geographical, and ethnic affiliations among tribes for various reasons, most notable being holy war. Tribes shown to be ‘kin’ would be in league together. Thus this table aligns the predominant tribes in and around the land promised to Israel. These names include founders of tribes, clans, cities, and territories.” – Allen P. Ross, Genesis

The Jews, who were designated as God’s chosen people, had to constantly question why God had allowed such nations as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon to exist. Why did God permit the presence of wicked cities like Sodom and Gomorrah? Wouldn’t the world have been a better place without the Canaanites, Amorites, and Jebusites?

But this chapter was intended to display and explain the sovereignty of God. As Paul so clearly asserted, “From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries” (Genesis 17:26 NLT).

The sin committed by Ham (Genesis 9) produced some significant consequences. His genealogical line is filled with a rogue’s gallery of names and locations that would have struck fear into the hearts of the Jewish people. But these individuals and nations each existed for a reason. They would have divinely ordained roles to play in God’s unfolding redemptive plan. Yes, from Ham would come the Canaanites. But as chapter 11 will reveal, from Shem would come Abram, the father of the Hebrew people.

When dealing with the question of God’s sovereignty, it’s essential that we accept the bad with the good. The existence of the Canaanites, Ninevites, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Sodomites may cause us to question the wisdom of God, we must always remember that God’s ways are not always understandable or even logical to our finite minds. And the sovereign God of the universe has warned us that trying to comprehend His ways is well beyond our limited capacity.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

Mankind was procreating and filling the earth, but all the while, God was fulfilling His sovereign, infallible will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Costly Choice

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:16-19 ESV

God cursed the serpent and, by extension, Satan, the one who had been behind the entire forbidden fruit incident. But now, He turns His attention to the two VIPs of His creation. Adam and Eve had been formed by the very hand of God and given the exclusive privilege of bearing His image. Not only that, they had been given the distinctive responsibility to act as God’s vice-regents, ruling over and caring for all that He had made. They were to have been stewards over the vast and diverse earthly domain God had created.

Eve had succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and eaten the fruit of the one tree God had decreed as off-limits. And it wasn’t so much the act of fruit consumption that got Eve in trouble. It was the motivation behind the act. When Eve heard the serpent promise that eating the fruit would not lead to death, she had believed him.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

Eve was out to satiate a hunger that had nothing to do with food. She wanted to “be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT). Eve’s brief exchange with the serpent had left her with a seemingly insatiable desire for sovereignty and autonomy. Eve didn’t suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. She wasn’t born with a forbidden fruit fetish. No, she had an authority problem. She wanted to be in control. And it seems that her mate shared her predisposition for independence and self-rule because he quickly joined her in eating the fruit. And, according to the book of James, they had no one to blame but themselves.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

This raises a somewhat disconcerting question. Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden in the first place? It seems that, in so doing, God provided a form of “temptation” for Adam and Eve. It seems only logical that had the tree not been there in the first place, Eve would not have been tempted to eat of its fruit. But this is an overly simplistic deduction. According to the Westminister Confession of Faith, God had preordained the potential for sin because He had also preordained the solution to the problem it would cause.

Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. – Westminster Confession of Faith, 6:1

By placing the tree in the garden, God established a test, but not a temptation. Notice what the text states about the tree and its fruit.

…the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… – Genesis 3:6 ESV

There was nothing inherently wrong with the quality of the fruit. It was not poisonous or potentially deadly. In fact, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they remained fully alive. Satan had been partially correct when he stated, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). The tree and its fruit were not the problems. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not, in and of itself, evil. It was as holy and pure as any other tree that God had placed in the garden. But God had set it apart and declared it off-limits to Adam and Eve. He deemed one tree as forbidden. And that one tree would become a test of Adam and Eve’s obedience. Would they obey God’s command and refrain from eating the fruit of that one tree? God knew the answer to that question because He had already come up with the solution to the problem it would cause. As was revealed in God’s curse of the serpent, He had already pre-ordained the coming of the offspring who would eventually bruise the serpent’s head.

God had created the universe and all that it contained, and He had declared it all to be “very good.” Then He had placed Adam and Eve in that perfectly holy and sinless environment. Hermann Bavinck provides us with a somewhat head-scratching analysis of the situation in which Adam and Eve found themselves.

“The possibility of sinning is from God. The idea of sin was first conceived in his mind. God eternally conceived sin as his absolute polar opposite and thus, in that sense, included it in his decree, or else it would never have been able to arise and exist in reality. It was not Satan, nor Adam and Eve, who first conceived of the idea of sin; God himself as it were made it visible to their eyes. By means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, he clearly showed human beings the two roads they could take. And before the fall he even permitted an evil power from without to insinuate itself into Paradise, using the snake as its medium, and to discuss with Eve the meaning of the probationary command. There is therefore no doubt that God willed the possibility of sin.” – Hermann Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Notice his emphasis that God “willed the possibility of sin.”  God did not force Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. They made that decision on their own. God had provided them with more than enough food options to fulfill their daily nutritional requirements. But they wanted the one thing they were told they could not have. They made a choice. In choosing the forbidden fruit they were really choosing to doubt and disobey God. Their decision revealed their unwillingness to trust God and submit to His will for their lives.

God had created Adam and Eve with the capacity for reason and self-determination. They were not automatons, operating by pure animal instinct. Created in God’s image, they bore an intelligence unequaled by any other living creature. They could speak, discern, process information, and make rational decisions. In other words, they had the ability to choose what they would do. Built into the kingdom mandate God had given Adam and Eve was the possibility that they might decide to disobey it. He had commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. But they could have chosen to disobey that command. The rest of the creative order procreated according to instinct. The other living creatures lacked the God-given capacity to think for themselves.
They did as God had designed them to do. But Adam and Eve had been equipped with the God-ordained capacity to obey or disobey.

And because they had chosen to exercise their option to disobey, they were doomed to suffer the consequences. The painful lesson Adam and Eve learned that fateful day was that, as finite creatures, they were completely dependent upon God for their very existence. They owed Him their lives and they were reliant upon Him for all their needs. And yet, they had chosen autonomy over dependency – a decision that would cost them dearly.

God communicated His displeasure with Eve by explaining the “fruit” of her sin.

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
    and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
    but he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16 NLT

From this point forward, the woman would find obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply marked by pain and suffering. And the complementary and co-equal relationship God had given her and Adam would be replaced by a competitive and sometimes combative spirit. With the introduction of sin, the “one flesh” nature of the husband and wife relationship would be difficult to maintain. Selfishness would replace the symbiosis God had originally planned for marriage.

But God saved His harshest words and strongest punishment for Adam. Because Adam had chosen to listen to his wife and eat of the fruit that God had forbidden, he would find his role as steward of God’s creation to become a burden rather than a blessing.

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. – Genesis 3:17 NLT

God had always intended for Adam to labor. Work was always intended to be a blessing, not a curse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 2:15 ESV

But because Adam chose to disobey God, he would find His God-ordained mandate to be burdensome and back-breaking. God actually cursed the ground, causing it to sprout thorns and thistles. Planting would become difficult. Harvesting would be hit or miss. The ground would still provide the food man needed, but it would not release its bounty easily. God warned Adam:

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 NLT

For the first time since God placed Adam in the garden, He reveals the invading presence of death. He had warned Adam that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in death. But the fruit would not be the source of Adam’s demise. His body would now suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world where the ravages of time and toil would take their toll. Man, whom God had formed from the dust of the ground would return to from whence he came. The breath of life would be removed and his body would be returned to its original state.

This section of the creation narrative paints a bleak and sobering picture. And with it, Moses provides the backdrop for all that will follow. The rest of the book will detail the subsequent and far-reaching ramifications of that one fateful decision. Sin had entered the world and its influence would be felt for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Far As the Curse Is Found

14 The Lord God 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.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:14-15 ESV

Adam and Eve refused to accept responsibility for their actions, choosing instead to cast themselves as innocent victims. Their desire to “like God, knowing good and evil” had not turned out quite the way they had expected.  Their newly acquired “intuition,” or what they had believed would be god-like insight, had only left them feeling ashamed, dealing with guilt, and attempting to hide from their Creator.

But their efforts to avert God’s wrath by passing blame and avoiding His presence would prove ineffective. God was not fooled. He knew exactly what had taken place and the role that each participant had played. And He began the deliverance of His righteous retribution by focusing on the one who had instigated the entire affair: The serpent. Addressing the serpent for its role in Eve’s rebellion and Adam’s willful compliance, God pronounced the first of three curses. But before looking at the nature of these curses, it’s important to note that they have a direct correlation to the three blessings that God had pronounced earlier upon His creation.

So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” – Genesis 1:21-22 NLT

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:27-28 NLT

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. – Genesis 2:1-3 NLT

On three separate occasions, God had blessed His creation. He had repeatedly deemed it good and pleasing to His sight. With the forming of the man and woman, God had declared His creation to be “very good.” But in one moment of time, through the deceptive lies of the enemy, God’s good creation had become marred by sin. With Eve’s self-willed decision to become like God, she allowed the darkness of sin to enter her heart and diminish her image-bearing and glory-reflecting capacity as a child of God. And like a contagious disease, her decision had infected her husband and would eventually spread throughout the creation. In a sense, what God had blessed, Adam and Eve had cursed. What had been a purely selfish decision would turn out to have long-lasting and far-spreading implications for the rest of the creative order.

“…morality makes sense only when it is grounded in the personhood of the triune God and the subsequent relationship that his image-bearing creatures have with him. Adam’s sin drove a wedge first and foremost between God and man. Then it severed the harmony between man and man, as well as man and creation.” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

According to Herman Bavinck, sin is a “fundamental reversal of all relationships, a revolution by which the creature detached himself from and positioned himself against God, an uprising, a fall in the true sense, which was decisive for the whole world and took it in a direction and on a road away from God” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics).

When God had told Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17 ESV), He had meant it. The Creator had given His creation a clear-cut command that He expected to be followed. And it had come with a warning of serious consequences if disobeyed.

“…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:17 ESV

Perhaps Adam had no way of processing God’s words. He had no mental category for processing the concept of death because He had never experienced it. Adam was surrounded by living creatures and lived in a garden filled with nothing but signs of abundant life. There is no indication that he had ever seen anything die. It would seem that, in those halcyon days of the pre-fall creation, death played no role. Everything had been blessed by God so that it might be fruitful and multiply. Death is nothing more than the expiration of life.

“There is no such thing as cold, only lower degrees of heat (or the complete lack of it).…Death is not the opposite of life, but its privation. A cloth can exist without a hole, but the hole cannot exist without the cloth.…A shadow in nothing but the obstruction of light – not light, no shadow.” – Randy Alcorn, If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

Satan, disguised in the form of a beautiful and beguiling serpent, had directly refuted the word of God. Adam had clearly heard God say what would happen if he ate the forbidden fruit: “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). But Satan declared God to be a liar by promising Eve, “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). Satan’s denial of God’s word and his denunciation of any punishment for disobeying it would prove to be costly for all the parties involved. And God’s indictments started with him.

“Because you have done this, you are cursed
    more than all animals, domestic and wild.
You will crawl on your belly,
    groveling in the dust as long as you live. – Genesis 3:14 ESV

First, God curses the serpent for its role in the fall. Whether this creature had been possessed by Satan or the enemy had somehow taken on the form of a serpent, God held it accountable. There are some who believe that, according to this passage, snakes must have had created with legs, but were doomed to crawl on their bellies because of this curse.  For the original readers of Moses’ book, the idea of groveling in the dust was intended to convey the idea of humiliation and subjugation. This same imagery is used elsewhere in the Scriptures to convey a defeated and demoralized people.

For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
    our belly clings to the ground. – Psalm 44:25 ESV

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… – Micah 7:16-17 ESV

But God had far more than humiliation in mind for the serpent. This is where Satan’s nefarious behind-the-scenes role is exposed. He had been the one behind the whole affair, and he would pay dearly for his actions.

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

There has never been a love affair between snakes and humanity. But there is far more to this curse than a mutual and perpetual disdain between these two species. God is addressing Satan, and warning him of a future form of retribution that will result in his demise. This passage has been called the protoevangelium or first gospel. In delivering this curse upon Satan, God was declaring His intention to bring about a future seed of the woman who would fulfill the role that Adam had failed to carry out. Adam’s participation in the eating of the fruit had brought death to humanity. But there would be a second Adam, who would ultimately defeat death and destroy the enemy. The apostle Paul would later reveal the far-reaching implications of Adam’s sin.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

But Paul clarifies that will be a second Adam, another man, who will bring forgiveness and replace the condemnation of death with the hope of eternal life.

Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:14-15 NLT

Adam and Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and rebelled against their good and gracious creator, and their capacity for sin was passed down to their descendants. And sin resulted in separation from God – both spiritually and physically. And yet, according to the protoevangelium, God already had a remedy in place.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. – Romans 5:17-18 NLT

The book of Genesis records the story of how sin entered the world. But as dark and depressing as these opening chapters of God’s Word may appear, they are marked by hope. God was not done. He had not been caught off guard or taken by surprise. The actions of Adam and Eve did not cause God to come up with Plan B. The “offspring” of Adam and Eve had been the plan all along. God had always planned to send His Son to pay for the sins of mankind. Even before He had made the world, God had intended to send His Son to be the Savior of the world. The apostle Peter reminds us of the preordained nature of God’s redemptive plan when he writes:

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT

Satan thought he had thrown a wrench into God’s plans, but he was wrong. The fall was inevitable because humanity was incapable of remaining faithful to its calling. But God had a plan in place that would restore order, renew His fallen creation, and redeem His disobedient children. And it would all take place through “Christ’s one act of righteousness” (Romans 5:18 NLT). The apostle Paul describes the difference between the first and last Adam.

“The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 15:45 NLT

Jesus was destined to deliver fallen humanity from death to life, from cursed to blessed, and from the role of the enemy to that of an heir. And the third stanza of the Christmas carol, Joy to the World, sums it up well.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Rupture in the Cosmic Order

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  Genesis 3:8-13 ESV

The fruit that God had clearly forbidden, Eve had deemed as “good for food” and “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). Under the nefarious influence of the serpent (a.k.a. Satan), Eve had rejected the divine prohibition concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both she and Adam went with their gut instinct and gave in to their base desire for self-satisfaction. Moses reveals that at the core of Eve’s decision-making process was the faulty understanding that “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “wise” is שָׂכַל (śāḵal), and it can also mean “to give insight.” Eve was hoping to acquire an intuitive understanding of all things. Dictionary.com defines “intuition” as “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process.” She desired an immediate and inner apprehension of right and wrong. In other words, she was not interested in adhering to God’s predetermined standard for obedience. William Ernest Henley could have been quoting Eve when he penned the last two lines of his poem, Invictus.

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Eve was dissatisfied. Everything God had made and had deemed as “very good” was not good enough for Eve. She wanted more. She wanted what she could not have. She had an innate desire for that which had been denied. She and Adam had no need for additional food. There was no shortage of edible plants and fruit-bearing trees in the garden. But the one tree that God had declared as off-limits became the one tree Eve couldn’t stop thinking about.

“The heart wants what it wants. That’s as far as we get. That’s the conversation stopper. The imperial self rules all. The inquiring into the causes of sin takes us back, again and again, to the intractable human will and the heart’s desire that stiffens the will against all competing considerations. Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting it wants what it wants.” – Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 62

It wasn’t so much the fruit that Eve desired as the promise of autonomy it supposedly held. She wanted to be wise – like God. She desired to be intuitively intelligent and capable of making her own determinations of right and wrong.

J. I. Packer describes sin as “essentially the resolve – the mad, utterly blameworthy, but nonetheless, utterly firm resolve – to play God and right the real God. Sinners resolve to treat themselves as the center of the universe and so they keep God at bay on the outer circumference of their lives” (J. I. Packer, “The Necessity of the Atonement,” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer). Eve had resolved to replace God’s standard with her own and, sadly, she convinced her husband to follow her lead.

And it’s interesting to note that the first “insight” Adam and Eve gained from eating the forbidden fruit was an awareness of their own nakedness. They made the sudden determination that what God had deemed as “very good” was unacceptable. Their decision to cover their bodies with make-shift garments reveals their new capacity for making self-determined moral judgments.

“…there is a never-ending drive to replace the triune God with infinitely inferior and more palpable gods along with a set of degenerate moral precepts as a further means of suppressing the truth. The unregenerate host of humanity hate the light of divine moral truth. They cannot bear to allow it to shine on them lest it expose the blackness of their shame, their dishonor, their guilt and rebellion (John 3:20).” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

It should not be overlooked that the very first thing Adam and Eve did, post-sin, was cover their “nakedness.” They inherently knew that they were exposed to the eyes of God, and they feared that He would see them for what they were. So, Moses indicates that the first couple attempted to hide from the presence of the Lord. In an almost humorous aside, Moses states that they hid “among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). Their newly acquired “wisdom” prompted them to seek shelter from God in the very place where they had committed the crime.

One of the ironic things about Satan’s offer of god-like wisdom is that it immediately renders any takers illogical and irrational. Adam and Eve really thought they could hide from God. And when He showed up, asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 ESV), Adam reluctantly responded, ““I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10 ESV).

Fear, shame, and hiddenness. Those are just a few of the unhealthy byproducts of sin. They also reveal what Satan was really offering when he had declared that the forbidden fruit would make Eve “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). His promise of god-likeness was a lie. What he was really offering was the anthesis of godliness. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve and her easily manipulated husband didn’t become like God, they actually found themselves exhibiting characteristics that were diametrically opposed to God: ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice, and lawlessness.

“…to fall short of the glory of God is to bare a shattered imago Dei. The reflection of the moral image of God within the fallen creature is irreparably broken apart from divine intervention. ‘Sin is a radical disruption in the core of our being.’” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

Notice that God began the conversation with His disobedient children by inquiring about their location. He knew where they were and He was fully aware of what they had done. But He seems to place the emphasis on their broken relationship with Him. They were in the garden, hidden among the trees, but they were actually far from God. Their sin had separated them from the very one who had made them. And notice that, when Adam heard the voice of God, he immediately confessed his nakedness, but not his sin. And, in an attempt to garner a full confession from Adam, God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11 ESV).  Once again, God knew the answer to His own question. He was simply giving His disobedient son an opportunity to own his actions. But rather than admitting his culpability, Adam passes the buck. He blames his wife.

“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:12 ESV

He attempts to shift the blame by pointing out that Eve had been God’s idea. Had God not made Eve, none of this would have happened. Adam was declaring himself to be an innocent and unwitting victim in this disastrous affair. Playing along with Adam’s faulty line of reasoning, God asked Eve, “What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13 ESV). To which she replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13 ESV).

Neither the man nor the woman took responsibility for their actions. They had both desired the benefits the fruit offered, but neither wanted to accept accountability or face the liabilities that came with their actions. Sin always has consequences. It offers an assortment of tempting perks, but they all come with a hefty price tag. And, as will become readily apparent, there was plenty of blame to go around. God would render judgment against all parties involved. He would hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Adam and Eve had been created as God’s image-bearers, but in choosing to disobey God, their ability to mirror His goodness and glory was shattered. On that fateful day, the light of God’s glory diminished in the lives of the two people He had created. Darkness entered the scene once again. Evil entered the garden. And as Os Guinness so aptly put it, “Evil is therefore in essence that which was not supposed to be, a rupture in the cosmic order of things, a cancer whose malignancy has spread to every part of life, a form or red-handed mutiny against life as it was supposed to be” (Os Guinness, Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Short Journey from Doubt to Disobedience

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:1-7 ESV

With the opening of chapter three, the story takes a sudden and decidedly dark turn. The preceding chapter ended with the first marriage ceremony, officiated over by God Himself, as He joined together as “one flesh,” the man and woman He had created. It had been an idyllic scene, as Adam welcomed his new wife.

“At last!” the man exclaimed.

“This one is bone from my bone,
    and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
    because she was taken from ‘man.’” – Genesis 2:25 NLT

And Moses ended that chapter by noting that “the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NLT). They enjoyed a relationship built on innocence, transparency, and complete trust. They were just as God had intended them to be and, together, they enjoyed the bountiful and beautiful environment He had prepared for them. Yet, their state of unadulterated innocence and intimacy was about to change – forever.

One day, as Eve walked in the garden, she was confronted by one of the other “living creatures.“ In a scene straight out of a Harry Potter novel, Eve is confronted by a beautiful and particularly beguiling serpent. Surprisingly, Eve does not seem to be shocked at the creature’s capacity to speak. Due to her recent arrival on the scene, Eve may have not yet interacted with any of the other animals, so she would have been unaware that the capacity of speech was solely restricted to humans. The fact that the serpent spoke to her does not seem to surprise her. But the words that come from the mouth of the serpent will have life-altering implications.

It is interesting to note the wordplay that takes place between verse 25 of chapter two and verse 1 of chapter three. In Hebrew, the word for “naked” is עָרוֹם (ʿārôm), and the word used to describe the craftiness of the serpent is עָרוּם (ʿārûm). Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses these two words to differentiate between Eve, the innocent protagonist, and the serpent, the clever and cunning antagonist. The serpent is going to make a full-frontal assault on the child-like innocence and inexperience of Eve.

But before preceding, we have to address the issue of the serpent’s identity. Was this just another snake in the garden? It would seem that the answer is no. This serpent displayed the capacity to reason and speak. Moses describes it as being “more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). This statement could indicate that the serpent was not one of God’s creations. Then where did it come from? Most biblical scholars agree that the serpent was a manifestation of Satan himself. The prophet Ezekiel describes Satan as being in Eden.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you. – Ezekiel 28:13-15 ESV

And Ezekiel describes the ignominious fall of this “anointed guardian cherub” who had been “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12 ESV).

Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:17 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah provides further insights into Satan’s epic fall from grace.

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

Satan, desiring to be as God, had led an angelic insurrection against the Almighty. But his attempt to overthrow and replace God had failed and he was cast down to earth. In the book of Revelation, John provides an apt description of this former ministering angel. He refers to him as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 ESV). Jesus described Satan as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44 ESV). With this statement, Jesus seems to indicate Satan’s role in the fall. He played the part of the deceiver, using lies and half-truths to persuade Adam and Eve to rebel against God. And Jesus went on to explain that Satan “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV).

It seems clear that the serpent was merely a tool, a deceptive prop in the hands of Satan. It could be that Satan even disguised himself in the guise of a serpent in order to infiltrate the garden and catch the unsuspecting Eve off guard. The apostle Paul, when calling the false teachers who were deceiving local congregations, he described them as “deceitful workman, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13 ESV). Then, he went on to explain the source of their deception.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. – 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 ESV

It doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to consider Satan as disguising himself as a serpent. In that form, he was able to approach Eve and raise questions about the integrity and trustworthiness of God. He may have been cast down, but he had not yet given up his desire to replace God. This time, he chose to attack God’s chosen image-bearers in an effort to dissuade them from the kingdom mandate they had been given. And his weapon of choice was deceit, designed to produce doubt, which would eventually lead to disobedience. He began his conversation with Eve by asking a cleverly worded question:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 2:1 ESV

He was testing her knowledge and understanding of God’s command concerning the trees of the garden. But he was also subtly encouraging Eve to doubt the integrity of God’s word.

But Eve calmly responded, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV). But Eve exposed her ignorance of God’s command by adding the inaccurate prohibition against touching the tree. Her answer was only partially correct, and this opened the door to Satan’s next salvo.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

With this one statement, Satan planted the seeds of doubt that would soon spring forth into full-grown disobedience. He blatantly refuted the word of God by declaring that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in life, not death. He insinuated to Even that God was holding out on them. The Almighty was trying to prevent them from experiencing all that they were meant to be. He asserted that if they actually disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would be like God. In other words, the fruit would give them the capacity to determine right from wrong. They would become autonomous and self-governing. In a sense, they would be like God in that they would be able to determine what was best for themselves. They would no longer have to live by God’s restrictive and repressive rules.

Satan portrayed God as the deceiver. He turned the tables and cast God as the villain in the story. It was Yahweh who was keeping them from enjoying their well-deserved freedom and right to self-determination.

And Eve quickly succumbed to Satan’s tempting ploy. Moses states that “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). She immediately experienced what the apostle John would later describe as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT). She fell in love with the fruit and all that it could offer. And she ate. She gave in to the temptation. Not only that, she shared the forbidden fruit with her husband. Yes, Adam was there. He had been the entire time. He had heard the entire conversation between Eve and the serpent and had never spoken up. It had been to Adam that God had given the original warning concerning the tree.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

He knew exactly what God had said and should have refuted the lies of the serpent. But, instead, Adam followed his wife’s lead and accepted her offer of the fruit. He too, doubted God’s word and made the fateful decision to disobey God’s command. And the rest, they say, is history. Moses sadly states, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7 ESV). They got exactly what the serpent had promised: Their eyes were opened. But what they saw disturbed them. Rather looking on one another’s innocence, they viewed themselves in the guise of guilt. They had sinned and they knew it. And they immediately tried to cover their nakedness and hide themselves from the all-seeing eyes of God.  

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Holiness is Not Contagious

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:10-19 ESV

Back on the 24th day of the sixth month, after a 16-year delay, the people of Judah had finally decided to obey God and commence construction on the destroyed temple of God. Nearly a month later, God encouraged them to complete the project by giving them the promise of His abiding presence (Haggai 2:1-5). But after two months of labor on the project, the people began to question the veracity of God’s word and the profitability of their efforts. Despite all their hard work, their crop production had not increased. They had finally obeyed God and begun construction on the temple, and yet, the drought continued, and the fruit of their harvests remained slim. Where were God’s blessings? Why had He not ended the drought and rewarded them for their faithful service?

They fully expected their obedience to produce some form of compensation from God. They were like disgruntled employees demanding a raise for all their hard work. So, God had Haggai deliver a much-needed lesson on moral purity and holiness. And He did so by posing a series of simple scenarios that concerned matters of holiness and defilement. God laid out these credible case studies and asked that the priests provide a ruling.

The first involved meat that had been set apart for sacrifice. According to the Mosaic Law, any meat that remained after the sacrifice was complete belonged to the priests.

“Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the LORD’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Anyone or anything that touches the sacrificial meat will become holy. If any of the sacrificial blood spatters on a person’s clothing, the soiled garment must be washed in a sacred place.” – Leviticus 6:25-27 NLT

“Any male from a priest’s family may eat from this offering; it is most holy.” – Leviticus 6:29 NLT

Based on this commandment, God asks the priests, “If one of you is carrying some meat from a holy sacrifice in his robes and his robe happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or olive oil, or any other kind of food, will it also become holy?” (Habbai 2:12 NLT). And their answer is an emphatic, “No!”

Their answer was based on their understanding that the meat, the priest, and his garments had all been set apart or made holy by God because they were each used in the sacrificial system. The animal that was sacrificed had to be without blemish before it could be offered to God. The priest had to be ritually purified before he could offer the meat as an offering to God. And he wore garments that had been specifically set apart for use in the sacrificial system. The meat, the priest, and his garments were considered holy because they had all been set apart for one purpose: The honoring of God through sacrifice.

But their holiness was not transferable. Their distinction as being “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30) was reserved for them alone. Not just any animal could be sacrificed. Not just any man could offer the meat of that animal to God. And not just any garment could be worn when doing so.

The consecrated priest carrying the consecrated meat in the fold of his consecrated robe was not some kind of a holiness transmitter that could somehow make ordinary food products holy and sacred simply by contact. That’s not how it worked. And yet it seems that the people believed that they were somehow holy by association because they had been working on the construction of God’s holy temple. They expected there to be some kind of transference of holiness accompanied by the requisite blessings that holiness demands. But the answer to the first question put an end to that misguided assumption.

The second question poses a similar but opposite scenario. This time, the situation involves someone who has become ceremonially unclean or impure.

“If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” – Haggaie 2:13 NLT

Once again, the priests were expected to provide their professional assessment and, as before, they respond, “No!” And this is where Haggai drops an unexpected bombshell on the people.

“That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin. – Haggai 2:14 NLT

Yes, they had finally decided to obey God and, for the last few months, they had been making progress on the rebuilding of the temple. But their determination to obey had not absolved them of their track record of sin and guilt. In God’s eyes, they were guilty of sin and, therefore, unclean. Even their offerings were considered unclean by God. This is where the two scenarios come into play. While holiness was non-transferable, the same could not be said of impurity or uncleanness. Just as good health cannot be shared from one person to another, neither can holiness. But disease or illness can be easily transmitted from the sick to the healthy. And the same is true with moral impurity. It can spread like yeast in a lump of dough or cancer cells in the human body.

Ever since the people had returned to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they had been offering sacrifices on an altar they had constructed.

Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening. – Ezra 3:2-3 NLT

But while their intentions were pure, their lives were not. As the book of Ezra points out, they were offering sacrifices before they had even laid the foundation of the temple, where those sacrifices should have been made.

Fifteen days before the Festival of Shelters began, the priests had begun to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. This was even before they had started to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. – Ezra 3:6 NLT

And now, 16 years later, God lets them know that He considered their sacrifices to be impure and unacceptable because they were contaminated by sin. He reminds them that, prior to laying the foundation of the temple, they were suffering from poor harvests caused by the blight, mildew, and hail He had sent upon them. And, even then, they had refused to return to Him (Haggai 2:17).

But now, three months after they had begun to rebuild the temple, God had good news for them. Things were about to change because He had made a determination to bless them. But not because they deserved or had earned it. Up until this very day, they had continued to experience His judgment for their disobedience – despite their efforts at rebuilding the temple. Now, He had something different in store for them.

“But from this day on I will bless you.” – Haggai 2:19 ESV

God could not and would not overlook the 16 years of disobedience that allowed His house to remain a pile of rubble. The people had managed to build homes for themselves but had repeatedly come up with excuses to put off the one thing God had commanded them to do when they returned to the land: Rebuild the temple. In failing to carry out that command, they had dishonored God and brought judgment upon themselves. They had returned to a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3), but their fields remained fruitless, their cupboards bare, and their stomachs empty – all because of their unfaithfulness. Their past disobedience had to be punished. But now God was ready to pour out His blessings.

They had been set apart by God for His glory. He had chosen them to be His prized possession, a kingdom of priests who were to honor Him with their lives. But they had failed to do so. Amazingly, despite their 16 years of apathy and non-compliance and only three months of faithful service, God graciously determined to bless them.

And all of this was in keeping with the promise God had made to the people of  Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. Moses had clearly warned them:

“…you must seek the LORD your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the LORD your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the LORD your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.