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The Home for Christian Writers! Matthew 6:33
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THE FIRST JUDGMENT
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Based on Gen. 3:14-15
An angry customer came stomping into the pet shop and confronted the owner. He said, "When I bought this dog you said he would be splendid for rats. He won't even go near a rat." "Well," said the owner, "That is splendid for the rats ain't it?" The statement about the dog being good for rats is one of those statements that can be interpreted two ways, and though they are opposites both can be right. To say a dog is good for rats can mean that he
would be a dog that would not harm them, and so he would be good for them. On the other hand, if the context of the statement is a conversation in which getting rid of rats is the subject, then the statement means just the opposite, and good for rats means bad for rats because he is good at getting rid of them.
All of this is simply to illustrate the kind of problem that faces interpreters when they come to the first judgment in history. Adam had confessed guilt, and Eve confessed, the cause of their guilt has been traced back to its origin in the serpent. God accepts the testimony of the witnesses, and He begins to mete out judgment first to the serpent. The problem facing interpreters is this: Does the serpent mean literally a serpent, or is this like the literalness that led to the dog being good for rats? Does serpent in the context mean an evil power using the serpent? In interpreters debate this, and both sides have legitimate arguments. We have to evaluate these arguments to try and understand what God's first negative act in history means.
Everything has been good up to this point, and God has done only what is positive. Now for the first time we have a negative response to what has happened. The judgment He passes here affects all of history, and so we need to evaluate it carefully. First of all, the strictly literal interpretation has some great defenders. For example, John Calvin says the serpent is a serpent and the strife is the strife between the human race and serpents. He sees no reason to spiritualize and make this a reference to Satan. Satan does not crawl on his belly and eat dust. Everyone has to admit that the literal interpretation of the words of verse 14 do not fit the picture the rest of the Bible gives us of Satan. He is called a serpent, but he is also called the prince of the power of the air and an angel of light. The literal interpretation would seem to limit us to snakes, and to exploring such things as why we fear them. Some actually believe this is recorded to explain why snakes do not have legs like other animals. I feel this is too trivial a reason for God to use space in His revelation to man.
In order to make this first judgment as significant as it must be I am forced to accept the arguments of those who spiritualize it and see here a sentence upon Satan. A curse on literal snakes would be meaningless. Snakes do not feel bad because they crawl on their bellies. They manage quite well, and do not feel cursed. So it is obvious that the serpent must represent the person of Satan. Hengstenberg said, "The serpent is thus by its disgusting form, and by the degradation of its whole being, doomed to be the visible
representative of the kingdom of darkness, and of its head, to whom it had served as an instrument." The way to reconcile the literal language with the symbolic interpretation is simply to recognize the necessity for progressive revelation. Adam and Eve knew nothing about Satan. They did not have the revelation we have, and so from their point of view the literal serpent and its seed would have to suffer. The literal view then is true, but it is just not complete enough, for we know that there was an evil spiritual person behind the serpent's actions. And he is the real enemy of man. The whole truth demands that both views be accepted.
The symbolic value of the serpent is clear. It is a fitting symbol of one who aspired to the pinnacle of heaven, but was cast down to the pit of hell. Satan does not crawl on his belly, but he has suffered a humiliation as degrading, for he was cast out of heaven into the dust of earth. This first judgment was far more severe for Satan than for Adam and Eve. They were cast out of Eden and suffered great loss, but they were still the highest creatures on earth. Satan had been degraded from an awesome archangel to a despised devil. The idea of eating dust is a reference to defeat. We use it yet today when we say that someone bit the dust. We mean that he has been brought down in defeat.
In verse 15 we see the first good news proclaimed on the earth after man's fall. It is the good news that God is just, and when the final judgment is complete the one who caused sin will be defeated, and the victims will be victorious. This verse is called the Protoevangelium, which means the first Gospel proclamation. The mercy of God toward man is evident from the beginning, for he knows that man would not have fallen had he not been tempted. God does not put all of the accused in the same category. He makes it clear distinction between the one who caused sin and the victims. He is a just God and does not treat all as equally guilty when that is not the case.
So great is the difference in the degrees of guilt that God makes the punishment of the serpent very personal. His very nature is cursed. Eve is less guilty than the serpent and so her punishment involves suffering, but not a change of her nature. Adam was the last to fall and he is given the least personal punishment. His nature is not affected at all, but it is the external environment in which he must labor that is changed. The punishment goes from very personal to impersonal, but the good news is that both Adam and Eve are put into a different category of that of Satan. God says there will be conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of Eve. Leupold rightly
says that enmity cannot apply to dumb beasts, and so it is obvious that the strife here must refer to Satan and man. It is equivalent to Paul's statement about wrestling, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.
The good news is that God is not putting man on the side of Satan in conflict with himself. He is dividing man from Satan, and He is putting them in a state of war with each other. So often we hear that man is a rebel against God and is fighting God that we ignore the good news of this first judgment. God set man at war with Satan and proclaimed that in this conflict man's seed would win the war. Satan caused man to lose Eden and perfect fellowship with God, and so he is man's greatest foe. Man and Satan are enemies. God will send a seed into the world who will destroy the works of the devil and deliver those in bondage to Satan. God is saying that He will not forsake His purpose in creating man just because Satan has thrown a monkey wrench into the machinery. He is saying He will get rid of the foe and restore man to what he was. God takes man's side in this first judgment. They must suffer for their folly, but they are assured that God is one their side and that they will come out victorious.
The encouraging thing for Eve was that, even though her punishment was to suffer pain in child bearing, the ultimate result of her child bearing would be the birth of one who would defeat the foe who brought the punishment upon her in the first place. This is the first hint of the incarnation and that God's plan would be fulfilled through a baby born of woman. Adam and Eve did not become opponents of God, but of evil. They continued to worship God, and they taught their children to sacrifice to God. They could not help but be grateful to God even if they did suffer the loss of Eden. It was a battle, but they passed on to some of their children a love of righteousness and a hatred for evil. Satan gained plenty of victories in the struggle, and we all know what Cain did to Abel. Even when it looked like Satan was winning the war, however, God had his Noah to carry on the seed of righteousness. We must always be aware of the good news that the seed of man will ultimately overcome the evil of Satan.
A question often debated is: What is the seed of the serpent? We have already suggested that it is to trivial to think of it as man fighting snakes. It is obvious that it refers to the seed of Satan. It is not easy, however, to determine just what that seed is. The two primary views are that it represents demons
and evil spirits, or that it represents wicked people. Those who feel that it is wicked people point out that Jesus called the Pharisees children of the devil. Edward Young says if you make the seed of Satan mean people just as the seed of Eve means people, then you have a conflict between humans and so he argues that it must mean demons. People can choose to be a child of darkness and join the demonic forces, but they are not Satan's seed. I don't pretend to know for sure which view is correct, but my present conviction is that young is probably correct. His view can incorporate the other and include people, but if you limit the seed to wicked people you exclude all the evil forces that Scripture reveals.
God said to the serpent that the seed of woman will bruise its head. Satan caused man's fall, but God says that man's fall does not mean man will be lower than Satan. Man will always be on a higher level than that snake in the grass that deceived him, and man will be able to bruise his head. Satan has failed to drag man down to his level. Man is bruised in the heel, but he can still fellowship with God and love God. Satan is the one who will be hurt in the vital spot of his head, and eventually lose all of his power. Satan only succeeds in causing man to suffer temporary loss. It will be a loss that can be healed, but Satan will suffer permanent loss in his battle with man. We see here why Jesus had to become a man to defeat Satan. The battle is between Satan and man, and God chooses to stand with man, but the victory must come from man's side, and so the incarnation was a necessity.
If you go to the cross and examine it in the light of this verse, as horrible as it was for the Lord, it was but a bruising of His heel in comparison to what was happening to Satan and his kingdom. The cross was the crushing blow to Satan's power. It made it possible for all men to cut the chain of bondage and be free. The very head of Satan was crushed at the cross. The church continues to stomp on that head, and Paul writes in Rom. 16:20 and says that, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Julia Ward Howe in The Battle Hymn Of The Republic wrote, "Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel."
We can actually say thanks for the first judgment, for in reality it was the beginning of the age of grace. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. From the very start of man's fall God promised victory, for He promised that man's foe shall fail and not prevail. The first great paradox of history is here, for God's first curse is also the first proclamation of the Gospel
of hope. Man's greatest blessing is contained in the words of this first curse. Because of the grace of God judgment day is not to be feared by those who know Jesus, for the last judgment like the first will also be a day of grace for those who are among the seed of Jesus Christ.
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