Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Devil In The Land Of Canaan (Part 2)

TWH: First of all, it's good to be back! Thanks to each of you for your patience while I was overseas. I had an action-packed trip down in Lima, teaching 5 hours per night and 7 hours on Saturdays. The students in Lima and Cusco were exceptional and it was a privilege for me to share that time with them.

We are picking up our discussion of the "devil." The first installment of this particular post, "The Devil in the Land of Canaan (Part 1)," can be found here. In it, Antonio gave a presentation about the devil and devils in the land of Canaan. Antonio correctly pointed out that the Israelites did believe in a group of evil spiritual beings. I want to take a moment and comment on one of the Bible verses that he mentioned in his post.

Let's take a look at Genesis 4:7. God, speaking to Cain, says, "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it." Walter Brueggemann says, "Sin is waiting like a hungry lion ready to leap (v. 7). (Cf. the same figure in another context in Jer. 5:6.) Sin is not a breaking of rules. Rather, sin is an aggressive force ready to ambush Cain" (Genesis, 57). In other places in the Old Testament, sin is presented as a breaking of rules, specifically disobeying something that God has commanded for people to be or do. Here, however, it takes on a form of personification. It crouches (cf. Gen. 49:9; Exod. 23:5; Job 11:19; Isa. 14:30; Ezek. 34:14; Song 1:7). It desires. And it can be overcome. The question we have to ask is, "Why?"

One of the most comprehensive treatments of this passage can be found in John Byron's book Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry (Themes in Biblical Narrative; Leiden: Brill, 2011). This verse has puzzled people over and over. It's not the easiest passage to work through, and, as many people have noted, the Hebrew construction is difficult, allowing for at least a few different translation possibilities.

Because of the way that I understand the nature of Scripture, I think the rest of Scripture serves as the best interpretive grid by which we can filter those possibilities. If there is some treatment in Scripture dealing with this passage, I believe it is far more important in determining its original meaning. Sure, I know it can be said that later references to this event still come under the umbrella of interpretation. But, again, that's why I say what follows is driven by the way that understand the nature of Scripture. All of Scripture–that is, everything that is written down–has God as its source. When we find a future reference to something, we can know that it bears the very attributes of God, specifically veraciousness and the impossibility of God to lie.

Let's fast forward to the Gospel of John. In John 8, Jesus is speaking to a certain group of Jews. Jesus begins to differentiate between two types of people: obedient descendants of Abraham, and disobedient descendants of Abraham; children of God, and children of Satan. In John 8:43-47, Jesus says:
"Why do you not understand what I am saying? The reason is because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." 
What exactly is Jesus referring to in John 8:44 when he refers to Satan being a "murderer from the beginning" and the "father of lies?" Personally, I think both are referring to what we see in Genesis 3 and 4. In one sense, Satan is a murderer since it is through his deception that death enters into the world for the very first time. Satan is the one who tempts, lies, and deceptively leads Adam and Eve in their rebellion against God's command to not eat from a certain tree in the middle of the garden. I also think, though, that Jesus is pointing to the first very act of murder in the history of the world. In Genesis 4, Satan is actively involved in the murder of Abel.

The reason we see the personification in Genesis 4 is because God wanted everyone to understand that there was something spiritual and evil active behind the scenes. Cain bore the presence of sin in his life. As did Abel. One responded in obedience to God, and God was pleased, while the other did not offer an acceptable sacrifice and only saw his sin manifest in more rebellious ways. Satan was present in all of that. He understood that man's proclivity after the Fall to sin was heightened. Satan was not introducing sin into the world for the first time at that point. He was cultivating it and hoping to see it expressed in more egregious ways that would (1) displease God and (2) disrupt the promise of the seed given in Gen. 3:15. The very close proximity of Gen. 4:7 to the narrative of the serpent in the garden in Genesis 3 makes it reasonable to believe that anyone hearing the narrative would associate the personification of Genesis 3 with the personification in Genesis 4. Beyond that, we have the testimony of Jesus in John 8.

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