Beginnings (11): Genesis 3

Corona-virus has changed the plans of millions – and this blog, of course, has not been exempted from this unfortunate influence. Originally, I planned to have my BEGINNING series from the beginning of 2020 through Passover – but as you know, that’s not what happened. This article resumes this series; and I am reminding you that we are now in Genesis 3, and we are dealing with the consequences of the Fall. It’s a challenging task to write about this chapter – Genesis 3 is one of the most well-known stories in the world. Might it be, however, that we still miss something here?

 

Who was cursed?

First of all, let us talk about the curses and the punishments. Somehow people often think that everybody was cursed in this story. However, when we read the text closely, we see that this was not the case. The curse was not upon humans. Adam was never cursed. Neither was Eve cursed – she was punished, as was Adam; he was punished by having to work on the cursed ground – because the ground, the soil, was cursed indeed! We mentioned it previously when we spoke about the word “adam”: the etymological connection between “man” and “ground” is very evident in Hebrew, even though one cannot really see this in English. In Hebrew, when you say “Adam” you almost hear the word adamah in this name:  they correspond and correlate one to another as masculine and feminine nouns in Hebrew do. And here in Genesis 3 we see another powerful proof of this connection: when God punishes Adam, it’s the adama that is cursed! This curse was probably felt so strongly by the early generations of Adam’s descendants that everyone was longing for it to be removed; we hear this very clearly in the prophetic words of Noah’s father Lamech, when he chooses a name for his son. Evidently Lamech felt the burden of toil upon an earth which God had cursed, and regarded his son as the one who should bring deliverance from the curse – as one who should provide comfort and rest.  “And he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.”[1] We will talk more about this when we will get to these chapters.

Besides the adama, the only one who received the curse was the serpent, the snake. The LORD pronounced a permanent curse upon the serpent: “Because you did this, more cursed shall you be than all cattle and all the wild beasts: On your belly shall you crawl and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life.”[2] It’s important to know that the Hebrew Bible doesn’t identify the serpent with Satan. It was not until the late first century Jewish document – the Book of Revelation – that the “serpent” was clearly identified with the Satan: “that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan[3]

 

Blame-shifting

We know that, when answering God’s question, Adam points his finger at his wife: she is the one to blame. When God questions Eve, He gets a similar response from her: the Serpent was to blame. After that, the LORD pronounces His punishment – but was it only for eating the fruit that Adam and Eve were punished?

Of course, we all are aware of this blame-shifting game in Genesis 3 and of the fact that God didn’t like it. However, nobody ever sees in it a problem as crucial as their disobedience to God’s command. And yet, Scripture gives us reason to believe that this was indeed a very grave sin in God’s eyes – that God’s subsequent punishment was not only for disobedience, but for blame-shifting as well.  How do we know that?

Have you ever wondered why the monarchic line of David came from the tribe of Judah—why this particular son of Jacob was honored with this amazing privilege? We find an answer in Genesis 38, in the story of Tamar: here Judah becomes the first person in the Bible to take responsibility for his own deeds and repent. Unlike Adam, who said: “she is the one to blame”, Judah said: “I am the one to blame!”

She has been more righteous than I.”[4] Judah is the first person in the book of Genesis – and therefore the entire Bible – to confess his sin, take responsibility for it, and change his behavior: he repents. I believe this is the reason why God blesses Judah’s tribe with such an amazing privilege. Even the name Yehudah (Judah) comes from the verb lehodot, which means not only “to thank” (as probably many of my readers know), but also “to admit, confess”. (For example, the name of a prayer of confession, Vidui, comes from this root.) And once we understand how important in God’s eyes confession is, we will also understand what a terrible sin this blame-shifting game in Genesis 3 was!

 

Garments of skin instead of garments of light

We read in Genesis 3 that before God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden, He made them clothes of skin. Some Jewish commentators say that before Adam and Chava (Eve) sinned, their bodies were clothed with light. and that as a result of their sin, the garments of light were replaced by garments of skin. Does the text support this concept?

If you read it in Hebrew, it becomes clear why Jewish sages said that. The Hebrew word for “skin” is “OR” (עוֹר): “ayin vav resh”. The Hebrew word for “light” is also “OR” (אור) but spelled “aleph vav resh”. Originally, God clothed Adam and his wife in the garments of celestial light. Why did they lose them?

This is one of the amazing features of Hebrew: the profound messages of its letters should not be missed! Hebrew words for light and skin differ in one letter only: aleph for light, and ayin for skin. The numeric value of aleph is 1, of Ayin is 70. The difference between them is 69, represented by the Hebrew letters Samech (ס) and Tet (ט). The root of the word, samech, means “to lean upon”, “to support”. The pictograph for tet looks like a snake. By leaning upon the snake, Adam and Eve lost their garments of light (אור) and had to be clothed in garments of skin.

 

 

[1] Gen.5:29

[2] Gen.3:14

[3] Rev.20:2

[4] Gen.38:26

 

Excerpts from my books  “Biblical Portraits:Judah” and “Unlocking  the Scriptures” are included in  this post. If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also the books,  you  can get  them  from  my page on Amazon :  https://www.amazon.com/Julia-Blum/e/B00LUY0JN8?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000   

Some of the books are also available on my page on this blog :   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/     

Also, if  these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  amazing  eTeacher courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Julia Blum

    Dear friends, for some technical reason, all the comments on this post have disappeared yesterday, and I hadn’t replied yet to some of them. It has never happened before, and I am sure it will never happen again. My apologies!

    1. Luis

      I was one who left a comment on this post. It’s too bad they were lost. In my comment I asked a question, which I hoped you might be able to address. It concerns the serpent which was cursed. The serpent was cursed to crawl on its belly and east dust. Since this was the curse, it implies that prior to serpent deceiving Eve it did not crawl on its belly nor did it eat dust. What was the serpent before the fall?

      1. Julia Blum

        Hi Luis, I am glad you have posted your question again, and indeed, I can address it – although I hardly would be able to add anything to what you know already. The original appearance of the serpent is one of the most-asked and most-debated topics, you probably are aware of that. The Bible doesn’t give us much information, and therefore there is considerable speculation in this area. We don’t have clear indication that the serpent had legs – however, if it didn’t, what was the point of the curse and why compare it to creatures which had legs in Genesis 3:14? This comparison with “beasts of the field” in 3:14,in a sense, confirms the clue from Genesis 3:1: the serpent was likely classified as a beast of the field, therefore, it probably moved with legs – and it lost them after the curse.
        I can only add that in many Jewish commentaries, you find the same idea: the serpent had legs before the curse in Gan Eden (Genesis Rabbah, Rashi etc.). I think, the scientific research also proves that the snakes originally had had legs.

        1. Luis

          Thank you for your response. I realize now after reading your response that I posed my question in such a way as to elicit a response dealing with the physical aspect of the serpent. I was actually seeking information about what Jewish thinking is concerning the essence of the serpent. I always assumed that the Christian belief that the serpent was Satan came from Jewish belief, but you mentioned in your article that Jewish thinking did not equate the serpent with the Satan until the apostle John made the association in the book of Revelation. What then does (or did) the serpent represent in Jewish thought.
          Thank you in advance.

          1. Julia Blum

            We have to remember that the mainstream of Judaism doesn’t see in Genesis 3 the important part of its worldview, the beginning of the future redemption, in a sense (as Christianity does) – therefore the image of serpent in Jewish commentaries is not altogether negative. In fact, it is very ambivalent, Of course, the serpent that appears in Genesis 3, in the Garden of Eden is portrayed as a deceptive creature who is cunning and guile in its deception. Yet, we find an opinion in Talmud saying that the snake was created to be Adam and Eve’s personal assistant, that is why he “was the cleverest of all the beasts of the garden.” Probably, the best expression of this ambivalence we find in the story from Numbers -the one that Jesus refers to – where the snakes are agents both of plague and of healing (Num.21:6-9).