<< Genesis 3: The Fall of Man— The Serpent >>
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. 8And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. 9And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. 11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? 12And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. 13And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 14And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. GENESIS III
That man is not now in the condition in which he must have been created, seems evident if we reflect upon the perfections of his divine Creator, or the manifest capabilities of the human constitution, and then notice the individual and social state of the race at present. When man came from the hands of his Maker, without the intervention of other human beings, he must have been complete and unperverted in his degree of life, and in his powers, though that degree and those powers were finite ; since his divine Creator must have been too good not to desire to make him complete for happiness, too wise not to know how to accomplish his purpose, and too powerful not to be able to carry it into effect. Man must, therefore, have been created, at first, in a state of order, and with every power to arrive at the possession of the highest, fullest bliss. He was then the production of Infinite Love, Wisdom, and Power, which could not produce what was opposed to themselves. Possessed in embryo of all the powers which have since been developed in the human race, being, in fact, a minute heaven and earth, to be unfolded under the influence of freedom, so that he might become truly man, freely wise, and freely good, and thus freely happy ; the powers of the primeval man would be gradually unfolded as they are now, and for the same purpose beginning with the lowest.
Look at the babe upon the breast. In him are enclosed the powers in embryo, which may result in the archangel. The capabilities of inventing or appreciating all arts, all talents, all improvements ; all principles which may be evolved and and expanded into the glories of heaven and earth are there. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made ; marvellous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well” — Ps. cxxxix. 14.
But the order of free choice, and free existence, requires that these powers should be unfolded and adopted gradually, from the lowest to the highest. The child learns first to suck, and delights in that ; this is the opening of the corporeal degree of life : subsequently, he learns to observe, by means of the senses, and through seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touch, which is the universal sense, he accumulates a vast treasure of knowledge ; this is the opening of the sensual degree of life. Then comes the period for unfolding the reasoning power. He is to be led to scrutinize, to compare, to weigh, to consider the relation of one fact with another, to discriminate between realities and appearances, and thus arrive at grand general laws, and be guided by them; and thus is unfolded the natural degree of the mind. Then comes the period for opening the spiritual degree, by which, we become interested with spiritual things : we learn truths in relation to our everlasting life, and have a still higher delight in them than in the things of earth ; and, lastly, there is opened that inner or celestial degree of life, by means of which we can learn and love the Divine Will supremely, the love of God, as the Supreme Good, can reign in the highest region of the soul, and thence bring the whole man into the order and bliss of heaven. Thus is the wondrous being, man, now developed, in those who carry out their preparation for heaven. Doubtless, this gradual unfolding of the degrees of life is for the sake of human freedom, the all-essential human element. We are free at every step of the progress to go on, or stop, or retrograde ; to stop, however, is to resist the Divine invitations, which beckon us upward and onward, and to resist is to retrograde. So is it now, so most the law for making man freely angelic, ever have been. “Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual.” — 1 Cor. xv. 46. At first, man would be born innocent and ignorant, but prone to good. In his regeneration, he would proceed from lower excellencies to higher, beginning, as now, with the lowest, but advancing with comparative ease. At this day, man is born innocent and ignorant, but prone to evil, beginning also at the lowest, and advancing with difficulty, because of the evil tendencies which obstruct him at every step. If we contemplate a state of society in which all is orderly, good, and progressive, not, certainly, with the cultivation and science of modern times, but with a gentle spirit of loving obedience, reigning in all things, a sacred delight in heavenly wisdom, and a pastoral and patriarchal simplicity in their whole lives, we shall probably have a fair idea of the condition of early, uncorrupted men. Innocence and peace dwelt serenely together; all were happy, because they were good. They loved God and their neighbour, lived in families, each one contented with his own, none seeking the power or goods of another. But now, alas, how changed is the whole scene of mankind! Swarms of police, and immense standing armies are required, to prevent private ruffians from preying upon mankind. Wild passions are with difficulty restrained, and now and then burst all bounds, volcanoes which have been long pent up, but whose urges can no longer be held in, pour forth their rivers of scorching death on all around. Universal imperfection is admitted, and testifies to an universal fall, seen from the outside of society. But when we regard man as he is within, he who watches his own heart and mind knows how much there is to reform, and to regenerate, before he can be happy. Others see, sometimes, what is done, but they see not what is resisted. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” — Jer. xvii. 9. The human mind is like a magnificent building whose splendid arches and proportions may be traced, but which lies in ruins. It is a volume of incalculable worth, on which the laws of eternal righteousness are to be traced in golden letters, but, alas, it is all blotted, and can only, by a divine hand, be restored. The world within, is like the world without. By the diligent cultivation, fair spots are formed of verdure, and of beauty lovely enough to show what is the intention of its Maker, and the earth’s capabilities, but at the same time it is actually infested with jungle and wild, with marsh and quagmire, with thorn and briar. Wild beasts of every hideous and terrible form, hide, and howl, and roar, and fight, and destroy there. Such is the human soul now. How came it thus? That is our present inquiry?
The history of nations has no answer to our present question. Human philosophy is equally dumb. Divine revelation gives an answer, and the question upon which we are now engaged is, what does the answer mean?
Those who take the early chapters of Genesis as a literal history, inform us, that a natural serpent seduced our first parents, and persuaded them to eat of a fruit which God had forbidden to be touched, and for this offence God cursed them and their posterity, the serpent, and the earth. But this is a strange account, that if it had not first been childishly received in the dark ages, and continued to be taught us generally in childhood, would not have been received at all. What a strange idea does it give of God, when it represents him as placing a tree needlessly in paradise ; for according to this idea, its fruit was never to be tasted, it could only tantalize the inhabitants of the garden. What a character does it attribute to Infinite Love, the Best of Beings, when it describes him as so jealous of the fruit of this one tree, and so unfeeling to his immortal children as to curse them and their unborn posterity because this fruit was taken! What an improbable circumstance is narrated, when we are told that our first parents in their perfect state could be seduced by an animal, and be led away from God, by a beast of the field. This has been felt to be so improbable that many have said the devil was in the serpent, but Moses says not a word about any devil entering the serpent. His words are simply, “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” — Gen. iii. 1. And, if a devil was the real delinquent, how comes it to pass that he escapes without a word, while the poor serpent, his innocent tool, is punished? By this mode of understanding the narrative, the real culprit is never mentioned, the beast is condemned to go on its belly all the days of its life, and to eat dust. And what is still more wonderful, not only does the devil escape unnoticed, but the serpent takes no notice of the sort of food he is condemned to live upon, and declines to eat dust, any more than other carnivorous animals.
This serpent, too, according to a mere literal interpretation, should have its head bruised by the Messiah, and it should bruise his heel (chap iii. 15). But whoever heard of its continuing to live four thousand years, until the Saviour came, or then fulfilling this prediction ?
The whole narrative is crowded with difficulties, when interpreted naturally, and becomes entirely useless. It is no warning, for no other human being would ever be tempted in that strange way. It gives no account of the origin of evil, for if the devil tempted our first parents, by entering into a serpent, to enquire into the origin of evil, would be to ask how it came to originate in him.
It is contrary to the divine dictate of our Saviour : it is not that which goeth into a man which defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the heart. For in this case, eating an outward fruit caused the defilement of the whole human race. Add to this, the account of the eating of the apple, constituting the fall, does not explain at all the immense change that must have occurred in the human mind itself, to make it the fountain of all the mischiefs which now afflict society. How comes it, that the love of God, evidently the principle which would be highest in the soul in a state or order, is now almost powerless and obliterated from the heart? How is it that the love of self, which ought to be the lowest in the soul, is now the great inspiring principle of nearly all human minds? and in those with whom it is not so, is only opposed and subdued by the severest mental struggle, and divine help? Whence come the preferences of the abounding impurities that infest the pleasures of mankind, when all the considerations of health, of abiding peace, and social well-being, point to pure and orderly enjoyments, as being the only rational ones ? Disorderly society without, is but the transcript of the disorganized mind within, and the question is, how came this so ? The eating of an apple does not explain this. It may be said by those who have no clear idea of the unchanging love of God, that He inflicted the curse of this mental ruin, in consequence of His law having been despised and broken. But in doing this, they would be declaring the unchangeable to have changed, from being the Giver of life and peace, to become the Inflicter of death and misery. In attempting irrationally to account for the fall of man, they have brought forward the terrible idea of the fall of God. Oh no ; we cannot for a moment admit that Infinite Love has changed, or can change : “He is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” — Ps. cxlv. 9. ” I am Jehovah! I change not,” he says; “therefore, Jacob, thou art not consumed.” — Mal. iii. 9. ” He is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” — James i. 17. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.” — Ps. cxxxvi. 1. Any doctrine which proceeds on the assumption of a changing or unmerciful Deity is thereby manifestly shown to be untrue. He may, to our changing minds, seem to change, as to the moving earth, the sun appears to move ; but as in the latter case, the sun really remains in his place, it is the earth which really changes; so in the former case man turns from God, but God remains the unchangeably good, for God is love.
But it is said, God gave a law respecting the tree of knowledge of good and evil : ” Thou shalt not eat of it : for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” — Gen. ii. 17. And He was bound by His undeviating truth to put this law into execution. But here the literal interpretation meets with another difficulty, or rather with several difficulties. For taking the word death in the natural sense, its advocates are compelled to admit, Adam did not die on the day he ate of the tree, and not until nine hundred and thirty years after. If this death, were a curse, these advocates say, Christ took upon Himself the curse inflicted upon man, and so saved the human race. Of course then man ought not to die. Besides in that case, the law which it was said God was, by his undeviating truth, bound to enforce, was not enforced after all; for the law was “Thou shalt surely die.” It says not one word of any one dying for him. The death of another would not fulfil the law, THOU shalt surely die. Lastly, all this argument respecting the inflexible law, goes upon the implied meaning of the law to he what it by no means expresses. In the day thou eatest thereof, I will cause thee to die, or I will put thee to death. There is, however, nothing of this kind in the announcement.
Taken in its spiritual meaning, it is a caution of merciful wisdom, warning man that if he preferred the appearances of his own knowledge, to the lessons of heavenly intelligence, meant by the other trees of the mental garden, he would come into a carnal or external state of mind, and as the apostle said, “To be carnally minded, is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” — Rom.” viii. 6. Seen thus, what has been called a law, is a caution of fatherly mercy, instructing us of the inevitable consequences of slighting His will and wisdom, which are perfect goodness and perfect truth. These consequences are invariably fulfilled in the very nature of things. If we turn from the light of heaven, we become dark ; if we turn from the warmth of heavenly love, we become cold ; if we stay with the lower principles of our nature, and will not advance to the higher, we become selfish. And, spiritual darkness, coldness, and selfishness, constitute spiritual death. In the day, in the hour, we adopt these principles, we spiritually die, and never can be reclaimed but by the word and power of the Divine Saviour, who said in the days of his flesh ; “ He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation : but is passed from death unto life” — John v. 24.
Having seen the difficulties which crowd around a merely natural interpretation of the serpent, and the circumstances which are connected with it in the Sacred Scriptures, and seen how full an illustration they give of what the apostle calls “the letter that killeth,” let us now advance to the ” spirit which giveth life.”— 2 Cor. iii. 6.
That the serpent is used in the Sacred Scriptures with a spiritual meaning, is evident from this very book of Genesis, and almost from every other. We read, chap. xlix. 17, “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward ;” language this, very obscure, unless we apply to its interpretation the science of correspondences, in which, each natural object bears a representation which has an analogy to its nature and habits. The serpent lives and moves dose to the earth. In warm countries it is to be found in great numbers, in great variety, and often of great size. Some kinds are harmless, but some are most deadly. They are generally insidious in their movements, and they spring from under the grass or leaves, or from their holes in the sand, ere the traveller is aware that danger is near. Some tribes exercise great power of fascination, and make it almost impossible for the animals they have destined for their prey to escape. From all these circumstances, we can easily recognize their analogy with that affection of our nature, which disposes us to delight in the gratifications of sense. The love of sensual things is useful, though its uses are of a low kind. If it were not pleasant to us to observe the beauties of our lovely world, to listen to the music of the human voice and the harmonies which nature offers, to enjoy the fragrancies with which the balmy air is loaded, and to taste the savours of the food which Providence bestows to sustain and strengthen us, our bodies could not be maintained as a healthy base for the higher things of life. The serpent, though a creeping animal, has his proper place and use in the little world of the human mind. Yet in the strong excitements of sense, there is a subtle tendency to excess, that needs the constant watchfulness of wisdom, to preserve this principle in order. “The serpent is more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made.”
If we love the things of sense, the scenes and charms of the outer world, only to make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with their uses, and control this love by a spirit of innocence derived from religion, we are then ” wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” Matt. x. 16. Many, however, there are, who suffer themselves to be so absorbed in sensual indulgence, as to lose sight and taste for everything nobler. These become altogether sensual men. In their judgments, they prefer time to eternity ; the things of earth to those of heaven. Instead of advancing on the path of truth, making their intellect serve them as a goodly horse in the battle of life (Zech. x. 3), they suffer facts to be distorted to serve selfish ends, and come at last to a complete overthrow o their own noblest views and highest objects. These are, indeed, serpents in the way, adders in the path, who bite the horse heels, and make the rider fall backward.
Some are absorbed by the ceremonies of religion, and magnify and multiply them for their own aggrandizement, to the utter neglect of their hallowed spirit and life, making much of mint and anise and cummin, and omitting the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith (Matt, xxiii. 33), until at length they make the Word of God of none effect by their traditions. These are described by the Lord as serpents, when He said, ” Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell ?” — Ver. 33. Others are more secret and seductive, acting by the subtle blandishments and refined sensualities, which are pregnant with ruin. These are like the smaller, but more deadly serpents, whose minutest bite is almost certain death. They only who love the Lord fervently, can subdue all the fascinations of sensual love. Of those who set their love upon him, Jehovah says, ” Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder : the
young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him : I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.” — Ps. xcL
13, 14. Sensual love, when chosen and preferred above the higher and holier principles that dignify the moral, the rational, and spiritual departments of our nature, makes the spirit of fiends and fiendish men, and hence is called ” that old serpent, even the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” — Rev. xii. 9. To oppose this spirit, and destroy its direful power, the Lord came into the world by assuming the seed of the woman, and thus fulfilled the prophecy by bruising the head or chief power of the serpent, when he conquered hell. The infernal influences bruised his heel or lowest part, his outward human nature, while he was completely triumphant, by then glorifying his human nature, and subduing hell and death.
He gave his disciples, at first, and he still gives them, power to tread upon serpents of sensuality in themselves, as He says, ” I beheld Satan like lightning fall from heaven. Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy : and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” — Luke x. 18, 19.
We have now the chief elements for understanding the divine account of man’s fall. The tree of knowledge represents the knowledge we acquire by our senses ; the serpent, the love of sensuous knowledge and experience, which may be good or bad, according as it is kept in its proper place, or raised to rule where it ought to serve. When the serpent is the servant of higher principles, it inspires its possessor with circumspection ; when suffered to rule, it leads to sensuality. But before pursuing the subject further in relation to the serpent, we would briefly draw attention to the fact, that the account of the decline of the race does not commence with the notice of the serpent in third chapter. All things are spoken of as very good, until intimation in the eighteenth verse of the second chapter, when the Lord God said, ” It is not good for man to be alone.” something discovered not good, where all had been very good before. And, if we have understood the meaning of that beautiful scriptural expression, dwelling ”alone,” as indicating the state of self-forgetfulness, in which we have no preference of our own, but are most fully acquiescent in the divine will, we shall not only understand the high state of excellence which predicted for Israel, — ” Lo, the people shall dwell alone,” Numb. xxiii. 9, and of which we have an intimation by the prophet, ” Arise, get you up unto the wealthy nation, that dwelleth withhout care, saith the Lord, which have neither gates nor bars, which dwell alone,” — Jer. xlix. 31, but we shall also be prepared to perceive that when the Lord God saw it was not good for man to be longer alone, it is an indication that he was verging towards an inferior state, in which he wished to love something of his own, in connection with divine things.
This desire, not to remain in that highest, purest, state of celestial life, in which our will is as it were absorbed in our supreme regard for the divine will, induced a weariness of the felicities of inward love and wisdom, and a disposition towards things of outward life, represented by the deep sleep into which Adam fell. Sleep is the symbol of a natural state, wakefulness of a spiritual state. Hence the kingdom of God is said in the Gospel to be like ” a man that should cast seed in his and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” — Mark iv. Alternation of state, the pursuit first of spiritual things, and then of natural things, is useful, if we follow each with a regard to true and proper use, ” He giveth his beloved sleep.” — Ps. cxxvii. 2. But we should beware of becoming so much engrossed in things of earth, as to neglect and despise those of heaven. Our prayer should ever be, ” Lighten thou mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” — Ps. xiii. 3.
The external state, into which the people of the most ancient times came, is represented by a deep sleep. Divine Mercy watched over them still, and opened in them a religious condition, in which their self-hood was moderated and hallowed by being blended with, and softened by heavenly affection. This is meant by forming the rib into a woman. It has been a vulgar idea that man has one rib fewer than woman has, but this is entirely unfounded. The rib is the symbol of selfhood, to which man inclined, in which there is little heavenly life, but which can be made truly religious, when man suffers himself to be led of the Divine Mercy to love the exalted things of heaven as if from himself, but yet adoringly acknowledges that the power to do so is from the Lord. This is a state to which we who are born in evil have to rise ; hence it is said in the prophecy of Jeremiah, ” Behold, I will create a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man,” — Jer. xxxL 22 ; but to the primeval people, who had been in a better state, it was a descent.
This formation of selfhood, which is hard like a bone, into something angelic, by filling it with love from the Lord, is represented in other places in the Scriptures, by making bones to flourish and to live. “ As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And when ye see this …. your bones shall flourish like an herb.” — Isa. lxvi. 13, 14. ” O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones. Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.” — Ezek. xxxvii. 4, 5. “All my bones shall say, Who is like unto thee?”
When the early people of the earth no longer wished to remain in the elevated condition of single and celestial dependence on the Divine Good, but were disposed to have somewhat of their own will in religion, the Lord permitted it, and so filled it with the graces of heaven, that from being like a hard bone, it became like a beautiful woman. ” give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever.”
We cannot leave this interesting part of the subject without intimating the clue it affords to the deep ground, in the wisdom of the Divine Creator, in which has originated the distinction of the human race into male and female : His perfect image below being formed, not by one sex, but by both. The essential male principle is truth and intellectual power, the essential feminine principle is affection for the truth, as manifested in the mind and life of man. Had both these been created in one being, the affection for truth would have been concentrated on his own truth, thus on himself, and have formed an intensely selfish being, vain of its own excellencies, hard as bone, against others. But by forming this affection into another being, the beautiful form of female softness and grace was produced, with the tendency to love man for the excellencies which are in him, from God.
He for God in her, she for God in him, and both for God above them. Thus by this beautiful arrangement of Infinite Wisdom, both are disposed to love what is out of themselves, and that principle of marriage union originated, round which cluster all the blessings and graces of wedded life, the blisses of home, and the orderly propagation and training of the human race.
We will once more return to the subject of man’s fall, as we have now a ready and satisfactory means of arriving at the divine account of its important stages. We have already observed the departure from the highest state of order, and the adoption of a state in which selfhood was allowed some exercise, but moderated and softened by the spirit of heaven, and under the confession that it is from the Lord, that it has been raised to what is lovable and holy. We have now to consider the operation of the sensual principle, signified by the serpent upon the religious state signified by Eve, already blended with selfhood, and thus having a tendency to confide in its own strength. The serpent’s speech is expressive of the tendency of the sensual principle to give importance to our own knowledge, and to have doubts of divine communications. “Yea, hath God said. Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? In this temptation, as in all temptation from the same principle now, and in this respect temptations at the present day, proceed from sensual desires, similarly with temptations in olden time, and they begin with the suggestion of doubt. Hath God said this ? Are you sure He has so strictly required purity, honesty, virtue? Do you think He troubles Himself to notice you ? Is there not, after all, some mode of gratifying your desires, and escaping from the consequences? Why should you not indulge every desire of your nature ? Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden ?
In the woman’s reply a remarkable fact is to be noticed ; she regards the tree of knowledge as in the midst of the garden, although as the Lord God arranged the garden, the tree of lives was in the midst (chap. ii. 9). She says, ” We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” — Chap. iii. 3. In this declaration of the woman we have another change of state implied ; she regarded the tree of knowledge, not the tree of lives, as the centre of all wisdom. When we have adopted our conclusions from the short-sighted appearances of sense, as being central truth, we are ripe for ruin, and such was the condition of the people represented by the divine record before us. There is an experience illustrative of this in the case of every one who falls. If divine wisdom were firmly held to ; if the tempted fled for refuge from their own clouded fancies, to the rock of ages, all would be well ; but when they place the tree of their own knowledge in the centre of the mind, they find their fancied strength becomes the veriest weakness, and the issue is misery and death.
The serpent next becomes bolder. The sensual principle strengthens itself, and suggests, ” Ye shall not surely die : for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” When we determine to act upon our own conceits, we deem ourselves singularly clever. We conclude we shall take no harm ; we shall know how to elude all the dangers Divine Wisdom has predicted, and all the world shall see how successful shall be our projects. We shall no longer be hoodwinked ; our eyes shall be opened, and we shall be as gods, showing that we know how to secure, in our own way, and by our own strength, the goods of selfish and worldly success, and avoid the evils of adversity and want. We take then the fruit of the tree ; it seems good, it seems pleasant. It is a tree to be desired to make one wise. We take it, but soon experience shows that this wisdom of the serpent is the curse of the soul. Alas ! for such opening of the eyes as then takes place ! A sense of weakness is soon unfolded ; a sense of restlessness and loss ; a sense of blame, and necessity for covering. We desire to excuse, and apologize. We cover ourselves with the fig-leaves of idle pretences that we had no power to do otherwise, although we forsook the guidance and the strength which were extended to save us. We have lost the bright day of former light and love ; it has become evening, and we are cold and sad.
The sorrowful experience of those who turn from the paths of wisdom and peace, to follow the dreams of their short-sighted fancy, is accurately represented by the language of the eighth verse, spiritually understood : ” They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden, in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God, among the trees of the garden.” In the Hebrew; tree is in the singular. Our translators probably thought they could not hide in one tree, and therefore gave it as they considered the case required, ” trees of the garden.” But, the Hebrew is as it ought to be ; it expresses the state into which man comes, when he chooses his own mistaken conceits, instead of the divine mode of being happy. The other trees of the garden, the perceptions of heavenly intelligence, disappear from him, and he has only his one tree left. He hides himself in that as well as he can ; he finds a poor covering, and he is condemned and unhappy. It is the cool of the day. The hour of reflection has come on. The merciful voice of the Almighty is perceived moving in the garden of his soul, and asking the important question, ” Adam, where art thou ?
The strangest absurdities arise from supposing these words to be literally interpreted, but the most interesting lessons from their spiritual acceptation. Can any one conceive that the All- knowing needed to enquire after man in an earthly garden? Surely not. But He comes from His mercy into the conscience of every one, after sin. The question implies the divine impulse, leading the sinner to ask himself, ” Man, where art thou ?” Remember where thou wast. Thou hast been innocent, peaceful, and happy; how art thou now? Thou hadst once the sweet lessons of heavenly wisdom shining brightly within thee ; these are all obscured and fled. “ Man, where art thou ?” Thou hadst once a loving sense of the presence of thy Heavenly Father, a holy confidence in His law, a full prospect of His kingdom. Now, where art thou ? Hiding, flying, from having placed a serpent where the All-wise should be, and taken its miserable delusions, instead of the counsels of the Most High. ” Man, where art thou?”
To all of us, there are seasons when this same scrutinizing but merciful visitor comes. We have had our falls, and from the suggestions of the same serpent, the love of sensual pleasure over those of eternity ; and then we hear in the recesses of the oonscience, the divine voice, enquiring, ”Man, where art thou?” Oh! let us be led by it to ponder over our state, to look up to our Father whom we have left, as our Saviour, who alone can redeem us. ” Thou, Jehovah, art our Father, our Redeemer : thy name is from everlasting.” — Isa. lxiii. 16.
The spiritual view of the history of man’s fall, not only relieves us from the difficulties which have been so strongly felt as to confirm many in their opposition to the Bible as the Word of God, but it throws a light over all that is said of serpents in the early records of other nations than the Jews, and in their religious usages. Among the Egyptians, it is said by Kircher, the serpent was the emblem of subtlety and cunning, and also of lust and sensual pleasure. They likewise represented the great god Kneph, the author of all good, by this form of a serpent. The sensual degree of the mind, including the senses and the passions, or affections connected with the senses, is a mass of lust and cunning, if separated from the higher principles of justice, judgment, faith and love; or it is the source of every outward blessing, when submissive to the will and the wisdom of the Lord.
Hence, as the god Kneph, it was the emblem of the source of good, as the god Typhon, of the embodiment of evil.
In Greece, the serpent was represented as drawing the car of Ceres, the goddess of abundance ; and being wound round the staff of Mercury, the messenger of the gods to men, and as waiting at the feet of AEsculapius the god of healing : thus representing, that earnest love of work which brings plenty upon earth ; that accurate observation which enables wisdom to exercise power upon earth, and that ability of promoting or restoring health, which is the attendant of a practical attention to the laws of God, in outward nature. The serpents which are seen to hiss from the girdles of the furies, are the symbols of the sensual passions, lawless and fierce, devouring their possessors, and breathing hate, defiance and cruelty against others. The hydra-headed serpent which Hercules could not slay so long as it touched the earth, and which prevented his entrance into the garden of bliss, is the symbol of selfish and sensual love which can only be overcome, by preventing its flowing into practice. Sin must be resisted by us from going into act ; we must not let it touch the earth, and the Lord will destroy the life and delight of it, within the soul.
in India, the serpent as good, is represented as bearing the sleeping Vishnu on the Sea of Milk ; the bad serpent, being rendered helpless and having its head bruised beneath the foot of the god of Love and Salvation, Chrishna. The sensual degree of the soul, in order, is the support, in the world, of interior wisdom ; when overweening, and desirous of ruling alone in man, it must be crushed and subdued. In Persia, it was the symbol of Ahriman, the evil principle : in China, of the Circumspection, by which the Tien-hoangs, the Kings of Heaven, and the Ti-lings, the Monarchs of Earth, rule. Every where is the double character of the sensual degree of the mind, as subordinate to the laws of religion, or as being allowed to resist them, presented to us by the symbol of the serpent, as good, or as evil.
The brazen serpent, which was lifted up in the wilderness for the healing of those who had been bitten by the fiery, flying serpents, was the symbol of the humanity of our blessed Lord, which was perfected by suffering, and so sanctified, as to become the source of salvation to all who look to God, in Him.
Who is there of us who has not been bitten by the fiery serpents ? Who has not suffered from inflamed passions ; from inordinate desires ; from indulging the earthly, instead of restraining it by the heavenly part of our natures ? What a message of comfort it is to know, that He who has glorified His own human nature will give us power to subdue ours, and restore it in us to order! “Behold, I give unto you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” — Luke x. 19. The great fact for us to learn, is, that as soon as man fell, throughout the subsequent progress of the human race, children were born in the image of their parents. Of Adam, it is said he was made in the likeness of God (Gen. vi. 1). But after the fall, it is written, he begat a son in his own likeness, after his image (yer. 3). It could not be otherwise : Divine Wisdom has linked the race together, as connected parts of one great whole. What parents cherish, is therefore transmitted with the rest of their being, in embryo, to their children. When the order of the mind was distorted, then, sensual things, although in their place, were allowed to engross the chief authority in the soul, and to rule where they ought to serve, disturbing dislocating the whole mind. This disordered nature was transmitted to children ; hence the divided and broken condition of the human mind, — the proneness, which we all feel, to give importance to things of sense. The origin of evil was not the introduction of a new principle into human nature ; it was only a displacing the principles which were already there, and were all good, in their proper order. Natural evil, is not anything original: it is but the exaggeration, or displacement, of what is otherwise good. Fire is a good thing as a servant, but bad as a master : water is excellent as rain, or in a river, but bad as a flood: every power of the human mind and body is good in its place and proportion, but each one becomes an evil when unduly exalted. When the senses, and the passions of the lowest degree of the soul, were raised to undue importance, and the higher and holier principles of the soul were first neglected, and then despised and disbelieved, this constituted the fall, and it and it was a real and fearful fall, — the higher principles of love to God and man were thrown down, and made to serve. The life’s business of man now, is to reverse this, and thus rise again, by power from the Great Serpent-bruiser — the Lord Jesus Christ. Our serpents— our sensual principles, are now too fearfully impure, and too strong for us. He will give us power, however, to tread upon them. It is hard for us, at first, to resist our proneness to place the pleasures of time before the purities of eternity, the desires of the flesh above the principles of the spirit; but if we look to Him, the Divine and Perfect Man, virtue will go out from Him, and we shall be saved. ” Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” He will enable us to deny ourselves and all our faculties as our own, and follow Him. By His power we shall not only subdue the sensual things of our nature, but they will be regenerated, filled with new heavenly life. We shall first tread upon the serpent, and then take it up, and join it to what is heavenly. ” These signs,” our blessed Lord says, ” shall follow them that believe ; they shall take up serpents.” — Mark xvi. 18.
When we have thus struggled, and by the aid of the Captain of salvation conquered, in the conflicts of the regeneration, the fall will be reversed in us ; the love of God and man, wisdom and faith, peace and happiness, will be restored to us. We shall realize those gracious words of the divine promise, and have paradise and the tree of life once more. ” To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Rev. ii. 7.
Feeling the loss of mankind, by separation from the source, of all happiness, wisdom, and peace ; feeling our own personal want of the divine Deliverer from sin and sorrow; let us lift our eyes and hearts to our only Saviour, and in the language of Milton say,
Queller of Satan, on Thy glorious work
Now enter; and begin to save mankind.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)