כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן
Gene. 3:1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made. And it said to the woman, “Moreover, that God said you shall not eat of any tree of the garden, ….”
From the Hebrew in this verse, it can be construed that the serpent is continuing a conversation that started before the action described in this verse. Here the serpent appears to be repeating what might have been previously expressed – but which is patently untrue – that none of the fruit of the garden was for the humans. I might guess that it was the serpent’s attempt to exhibit innocence on its part, maybe even stupidity, so as to instigate a denial from the woman, thereby insuring that she would continue in the conversation.
The word תֹאכְלוּ, you shall … eat, because it is masculine plural in form, implies that the serpent is talking to both the man and the woman. The woman is the one who answers, though – in the next verse.
Before we continue, I want to point out that, in my view, the serpent is not as smart as the scribe seems to want to imply. In speaking to the woman (and perhaps the man), the serpent appears to be trying to trick them into eating of the forbidden fruit. So the implication is that the serpent doesn’t understand how innocent they are, and believes it needs to trap them. So the serpent doesn’t seem too cunning to me. However, it may be true that it is more cunning than any of the other animals. But among many people, the serpent is the embodiment of Satan. They conclude that Satan is introduced here in the guise of the serpent. Is that because the serpent can talk? Well, other animals talk in other parts of the bible and they are clearly not intended to portray Satan. Speech is not unique to the serpent alone among animals. In any case, if the serpent is representative of Satan, then I have to conclude that Satan is not very smart, as he has overestimated the need for complexity in his subterfuge. It can be more sensibly surmised that Satan may have influenced the serpent. Because of the humans’ innocence, which was alluded to in the last verse of the previous chapter, they don’t need very much urging. They aren’t yet able to discriminate right from wrong, good from evil. So it needn’t take a great deal of fueling of their temptation for them to disobey God. Disobeying God could not have been viewed by them as wrong. They didn’t know what wrong was. This is a critical observation, as we shall soon see. [Back]
Gene. 3:10 And he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
The implication in the man’s response is that God had been calling to him but he had not responded until now, when the Lord probably began to sound insistent.
Was the man really afraid because he was naked? Sporting the fig leaf, he was no longer naked, anyway. Wouldn’t he have been afraid because he knew he’d sinned by ignoring God’s admonition? He must have known that with a certainty because he’d tasted the forbidden fruit of the tree. He now understood the difference between right and wrong. Was he lying to God, trying to hide the fact that he had eaten of the forbidden fruit? Would that have fooled anyone, much less the Lord?
But if he didn’t know of his “sin” until he ate the fruit, why should he be blamed for eating it? Wasn’t he unaware of good and evil until the fruit entered his mouth? The two humans were uncorrupted until then. With these questions, we are faced with a dilemma, a serious deficiency in the narrative of this chapter. There seems to be no satisfactory way around it.
Yet the story appears to be an attempt, awkward as it may be, to explain why life is so difficult. Blame the first humans. If they had only listened to God and heeded His warning, the world would be a haven of peace and goodness. We and the animals would all be vegetarians and life would be a continual delight. But the woman and her man succumbed to temptation without understanding the consequences. Shades of Pandora’s Box!
Well, I struggled with this dilemma and came up with three possible explanations for the seemingly undeserved punishment of the humans (see v. 3:14 ff.) First, it might be that God is not just and cares only that His commands are obeyed. With disobedience, punishment must follow. This possibility flies in the face of what Moses told us, and of the sayings of the prophets, so I won’t accept it. God is just and merciful, we are told again and again. Secondly, the whole affair might have been instigated by God in order to justify His plan to banish humanity from paradise. Numerous verses in the bible allude to God’s bringing about a particular situation for His own purpose, so this option may carry some merit for many readers. But not for me! I don’t believe that God works that way, because it isn’t logical. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing (and I must accept that the Creator of the universe is), need He resort to that kind of manipulation of circumstances? If God is manipulative, why stop with just setting up circumstances? Why not simply bring about the desired result? In this case, why not create the first humans out in the world rather than in Eden? Finally, the third possibility is that these passages stand as a perpetual warning to future generations that ignorance, even the ultimate innocence of the first two humans, doesn’t preclude the consequences of sin. This last explanation seems most appropriate to me. After all, the world is fraught with danger, and dreadful traps abound. Carelessness, ignorance, naiveté can easily get someone killed, maimed or hurt. Whether there is justice in that, I can’t judge. I just don’t know enough. And, truthfully, neither does anyone else.
A fourth thought should be introduced here as well. The possibility exists that this episode is a foretaste of the perfidy and disobedience and surrender to temptation later displayed by the Israelites starting in Exodus and continuing throughout the remainder of the bible (even to the present day?). In other words, this could be a veiled prophecy. We shall see that other later episodes lend themselves to similar suppositions.
Incidentally, this verse contains two inverting vav prefixes to imperfect first-person verbs. If you read the page About Hebrew, you know about inverting and non-inverting vav prefixes. I claim there that almost all vav prefixes are inverting, except in two kinds of situations. One situation involves a verb which is a consequence of a previous verb in the same or preceding verse. The other situation involves first-person imperfect verbs. In this verse we have encountered a situation involving first-person imperfect verbs having inverting prefixes; this appears to be an anomaly, and shows up only rarely. And indeed we do have a double anomaly as well with these two verbs. Although the two words, וָאִירָא, but I was afraid, and וָאֵחָבֵא, so I hid, are first-person imperfect, they are also consequences of the preceding verb, שָׁמַעְתִּי, I heard. Therefore, their vav prefixes should be non-inverting from this viewpoint as well. [Back]
Gene. 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall crush the front of you, and you shall bruise the heel of him.”הוּא יָשׁוּפְָה אֶת
The Hebrew of the last part of this verse is rather strange. The words הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ are literally “He shall crush you head …” And the words וְאַתָּה עָקֵב תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ are literally “… you shall bruise him heel.” Few other verses in the bible, however distorted their Hebrew, exhibit this strange grammar. To be more appropriate, this part of the verse should read הוּא יָשׁוּפְָה אֶת־רֹאשׁךָ וְאַתָּה תָּשּׁוּף אֶת־עָקַבוֹ. I would then translate it as “He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Furthermore, to whom does the masculine pronoun refer? I suspect it might be the woman’s seed, one person at a time. This thought is corroborated by Gene. 22:17 where the phrase your seed is referred to by a masculine singular pronoun.
There’s even more strange grammar here. The two words translated as he shall crush and you shall bruise are derived from the same root, meaning to crush, to bruise, to fall upon, to seize, to desire, or to stare at. Thus there are a plethora of alternative translations possible.
In contrast to the grammar, the meaning of the verse seems clear. People will step on the serpent’s head and the serpent will harass people. Does that sound realistic? Not to me! I’m not smart enough to make more of this verse, though. Are you? Yet the strangeness of these two verses, 3:14 and 3:15, seems to indicate that they harbor a hidden meaning. They might even be hiding the key to the mystery of this chapter. [Back]