By Monisa Victrum
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’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 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.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 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. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
I am totally guilty of using the accessibility of technology to communicate with people when I should speak with them face-to-face. Most of the time, this goes pretty well, but more recently, I’ve found that things I have texted, written in a blog, or tweeted present questions of, “Are you upset with me? You sound angry.” How can we truly appropriate tone when we don’t say much, but type it instead? When your text is in all caps are you angry or excited? I have found that #InsertHowI’mReallyFeelingHere works pretty well… But who speaks like that in real life?
Likewise, our attempts at deciphering tone makes it challenging when we read the Word. Think about this: Is Jesus yelling in Mark 8:15-21 (“Watch out!… Don’t you understand yet?”)? When God or Jesus asks a question, do they sound like they really don’t know the answer already, or is there more to their questions (Job 1:8, Genesis 3:9, John 5:6, John 21:15-17)?
For me, tone is challenging, because I can allow my own current emotional state to determine someone else’s tone, even if they don’t intend it to be that way. I remember hearing when I was little, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” As I get older, I am recognizing that this is all a lot more complex than that– but it doesn’t have to be.
If I knew nothing about the Bible and only read Genesis 3:1-7 and nothing else, I could easily make a case that this was a nice serpent who was simply helping a woman and her husband, making them believe that what God had told them was not only a lie (“You will not surely die”), but a way for them to be like God (“knowing good and evil”). What a kind serpent! But, I can coat those verses with glitter and it still won’t make what just happened seem as pretty as this serpent made it out to be.
A few questions that help us determine the tone of this passage…
- Observation: Who’s a part of this conversation?
- A serpent
- A woman
2. What does the Word say about the speaker?
- I personally have never met a nice serpent, but the Lord gives me a little more information about this guy before I even read the words he speaks: Crafty. According to the English Oxford Dictionary, crafty means “clever at achieving one’s aims by indirect or deceitful methods.” Character noted! In Monisa’s terms, “This guy ain’t no good.” I’d take this information into account when reading anything that comes out of his mouth.
3. What is the full story?
- We find out a lot about God before this whole “he-said”-“he-didn’t-really-say” conversation. We find out that He creates (Genesis 1:1), that when He speaks things happen (Genesis 1:3), He sees (Genesis 1:4), He blesses (Genesis 1:22), He gets pleased (Genesis 1:31), He rests (Genesis 2:3), He breathes life (Genesis 2:7), He commands (Genesis 2:16), He even performs a quick surgery and heals the not-so-good before we can even recognize that something is wrong (Genesis 2: 18, 21-23). We also find out before this conversation what God really said about the tree in question, word-for-word, in Genesis 2:15-17. I’m going to take my chances here and say that God really doesn’t sound like the type of person to lie, and if He says not to do something, we probably shouldn’t do it.
So, based on what I know– about that serpent, about what has happened before this conversation, and knowing more about who God is– reading it again makes it a little less friendly and a little more used-car salesman selling me a lemon.
There are many, MANY additional questions we can ask ourselves when we are reading the Word that can help us understand the tone, not just of the conversations being held, but of full books: the tone and underlying theme of Genesis is certainly not the same as Judges!
I wasn’t in the garden, so I don’t know for sure how the serpent spoke or even what the fruit they had eaten was, but what the Lord has given me is the ability to know who He is. If Jesus ever sounds like he just stepped on a Lego, I tend to stop and revert to these questions. As we begin to truly understand who He is and who the Father is, verses like Matthew 14:31 “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” and Luke 8:45 “Who was it that touched me?” sound a whole lot more loving than convicting.
Happy Studying! #I’mTotallyLaughingAtMyLegoComment