Genesis 3:14
So the LORD God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and every beast of the field! On your belly will you go, and dust you will eat, all the days of your life.
Sermons
ObservationsJ. White, M. A.Genesis 3:14
The CurseH. Bonar, D. D.Genesis 3:14
The Divine Sentence on the SerpentR. Winterbotham, M. A.Genesis 3:14
The Tempter in the Presence of GodG. Gilfillan.Genesis 3:14
The Word of God in the Moral ChaosR.A. Redford Genesis 3:9-24
Lessons of the FallA. Maclaren, D. D.Genesis 3:13-21
ObservationsJ. White, M. A.Genesis 3:13-21
The First SinDean Vaughan.Genesis 3:13-21
The General Results of the FallJ. S. Exell, M. A.Genesis 3:13-21
The Moral and Penal Results of the FallF. W. Robertson, M. A.Genesis 3:13-21
The Doom of Satan and the Hope of ManW. Roberts Genesis 3:14, 15


I. THE DOOM OF DEGRADATION (ver. 14).

II. THE DOOM OF HOSTILITY (ver. 15). Three stages: -

1. The enmity.

2. The conflict.

3. The victory. Lessons: -

1. See the wondrous mercy of God in proclaiming from the first day of sin, and putting into the forefront, a purpose of salvation.

2. Have we recognized it to the overcoming of the devil? - W.









Upon thy belly shalt thou go.
1. I lay down the position that no punishment in the way of physical degradation was inflicted by God in His sentence upon the serpent tribe. No doubt this idea has been held by most of those in past days who knew very little of natural history or of science; and it is held still by some who have no capacity of understanding scientific evidence. They cherish still, it may be, some strange notion that serpents, once upon a time, walked upright and ate fruits in an innocent and becoming manner. I cannot argue with such. The testimony of science on this subject is so absolutely overwhelming, that one might just as well call in question the revolution of the earth round the sun, or the circulation of the blood. Unless all science is a lie, there were plenty of serpents on the earth ages before man was made, and these serpents precisely like the present ones in their general construction. If our serpents may be said to go on their bellies and eat dust, so might those. From the creation of the world — long ages ago — it has been "their nature to." Further, I must maintain that the structure and habits of the serpent tribe bear no trace of any designed degradation. To the eye of one who has studied the "ways of God" in His fair and marvellous book of nature, who has learnt to recognize on every hand the exquisite adaptation of each tribe to the place of each, the serpent is as beautiful and perfect a piece of workmanship as any other creature. Admitting the fact (which no thoughtful observer could deny) that the animal tribes were made to prey upon one another to a great extent, and so to maintain the balance of life upon the earth. — admitting this palpable fact, it is obvious that the serpent is most wonderfully adapted to play his own part and fulfil his own ends upon the earth. There is no more degradation about his means of progression, surprisingly swift and easy as it is, than about the downward swoop of an eagle, the ponderous rush of a lion, or the noiseless flight of an owl. Nor is his food in reality of a more disgusting nature than theirs; the creatures which he swallows, great or small, are as much his natural food as their prey is to the eagle, the lion, and the owl. He would not condescend to eat carrion like the vulture or the jackal. It may indeed be true, as St. Paul seems to teach us, that the whole creation suffers in some little-understood way from the fall of man; and no doubt the lower animals often suffer severely from the sinful passions of man; but to acknowledge this is a totally different thing from acknowledging that God deliberately and judicially decreed degradation and punishment upon a creature which had not really sinned. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

2. I lay down the position, which I think no one will seriously dispute, that the real tempter was not the serpent at all, but the devil. It is true that there is no hint of this in Genesis, and this is very important to my argument. Had we no other information, we should have to assume that the serpent was in truth an intelligent being, supremely wicked, and capable of pursuing a most crafty policy. But the testimony of other Scriptures is clear and positive that it was the devil who tempted Eve (2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2; John 8:44). There can be but one way of understanding the inspired testimony: the devil availed himself of the form of the serpent, and of his known character for natural cunning, to speak by his mouth, and so to gain a safer audience. Just as the demoniacs of the New Testament and the evil spirits who possessed them seemed to have a mixed personality which is reflected in the very words of the Evangelists, so the tempter and the serpent remain, as it were, confounded, and the one is called by the name of the other — "that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan." Nevertheless, the witness is clear that the devil was the real agent in the temptation of our first parents.

3. I conclude from the foregoing positions, and conclude with confidence, that the serpent was not really cursed at all, while the devil was. All I know of God tells me that He would not — all I know of nature tells me that He did not — inflict punishment on the unwitting victim of another's craft. All I know from reason or from revelation of His ways assures me that He would not and did not leave unpunished the malice which wrecked (for the time) His fairest work.

4. I proceed to argue that while the form of the sentence was accommodated to the outward and visible form of which the tempter made use, the real meaning of the sentence applied to the tempter himself, and to the tempter alone. To the educated eye, as I have said, there is no trace of degradation about the structure or habits of the serpent; he does not in any real sense go upon his belly or eat dust. But to the untutored eye of the "unlearned," i.e., to the vast bulk of mankind in all ages, he appears to do both, and he is an object of natural loathing and disgust. As the upright position of man seems to raise him in dignity above the general level of animal life, so the prone and sinuous position of the snake seems to sink him below that level; having nothing degrading about it in reality, it is yet the accepted symbol of contempt. We, who are unacquainted with snakes, speak of a man as a "reptile" if we wish to express utter contempt and abhorrence of his ways; but a "reptile" is one that "goes upon his belly." Again, every student of nature knows that the serpent does not eat dust, but small animals which he often catches out of the dust and dirt; but, because he has neither hands nor anything in the nature of hands, he appears to swallow with his food a great deal of dust and dirt. The great difficulty we have to encounter in this Divine sentence on the serpent is that it is not really fulfilled in the literal serpent, though it is apparently. This difficulty seems to me to vanish wholly when we perceive that it is really fulfilled in the mystical serpent, the devil.

5. I am greatly confirmed in this understanding of the phrase by what we read in Isaiah 65:25. In that passage we are told that in the time of the "new heavens and new earth" "dust shall be the serpent's meat." It makes no difference to my argument whether we understand the prophecy to refer to the millennium or (as I think) to the future world. No one surely will maintain that serpents are to eat dust in that blessed state. Why should the unfortunate creatures be so ill-fated? Is it not clearly to be spiritually interpreted, that then, as now, only more clearly and absolutely then than now, disgrace, disappointment, and disgust will be the portion of the tempter and accuser? And if this "eating dust" on the part of the serpent be of spiritual interpretation in Isaiah, why should it not be the same in Genesis? It is admitted by all that the latter part of the sentence must be applied parabolically to the tempter himself — why not the former part also, in which the parable is quite as simple and as easy to read?

6. Two other conclusions seem to be necessary in order to complete the subject, and in order to "justify" on every side the heavenly "Wisdom" which pronounced and recorded this ancient doom.(1) In the first place, we must believe that He who foreknew all things, and ordered all things according to His foreknowledge, did of purpose prepare the serpent to be to a guilty race the natural emblem of their own sin and of their degradation.(2) In the second place, we must acknowledge that God willed, in merciful consideration for the weakness and cowardice of fallen man, not to allow the existence and malice of his ghostly enemy to become known to him at that time. The disguise, which served the purposes of evil, was overruled to serve the purposes of good; clothed in the same disguise, the sentence upon the evil one became a parable, which only yielded its true meaning by degrees, as redeemed man was able to bear it.

(R. Winterbotham, M. A.)

I. GOD MANY TIMES WILL NOT SO MUCH AS REASON THE CASE WITH SUCH AS HE DESTINES TO DESTRUCTION.

II. WHOMSOEVER HATH A HAND IN ANY SIN SHALL BE SURE TO HAVE A SHARE IN THE PUNISHMENT.

1. God is able both to convince and punish; and nothing can be hid from His pure eye, or escape His revenging hand.

2. The respect to His own honour necessarily moves Him to declare Himself to be just, in rendering to every man according to his deeds, and according to his works (Psalm 62:12).

III. EVERY INSTRUMENT IN THE ACTING OF SIN, AND WHATSOEVER IS DEFILED THEREBY, IS LIABLE TO GOD'S CURSE.

IV. ONE MAN'S PUNISHMENT OUGHT TO BE OTHER MEN'S INSTRUCTION. Whether inflicted by men in a course of justice (Deuteronomy 13:14), or laid on by God's immediate hand (Zephaniah 3:5, 6).

V. GOD LAYS HIS JUDGMENT UPON NO CREATURE BUT UPON JUST DESERTS. Reason —

1. His nature; fury is not in Him (Isaiah 27:4), but long suffering and abundant goodness (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8, 13).

2. Respect to His own honour, infinitely advanced by manifesting His justice, mercy, faithfulness, and truth, which appears when He dispenseth all His administrations according to men's deserts.

3. Neither could He otherwise encourage men to His service, but by accepting and rewarding them in well-doing, and punishing only their errors, and that too with so much moderation that it tends only to their good, and not to their destruction.

VI. GOD'S CURSE UPON ANY CREATURE IS THE FOUNTAIN OF ALL PLAGUES AND MISERIES.

VII. IT IS USUAL, WITH GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS SO TO ORDER THEM THAT THEY MAY POINT AT THE SIN FOR WHICH THEY ARE INFLICTED.

1. To justify Himself, that by such lively characters His righteousness in all His ways may be read by him that runs.

2. To farther men's repentance, by pointing out unto them the sin that brings the judgment upon them.

VIII. IT IS ONLY SIN THAT MAKES ONE MORE VILE THAN ANOTHER.

IX. IT IS A SHAMEFUL ABASEMENT TO BE GLUED TO THE EARTH.

(J. White, M. A.)

The serpent is now, so to speak, summoned into court. It would appear as if the power of fascination supposed to reside in his race had been reversed, and as if he had been compelled to draw near by the mightier fascination of justice, descended in the person of the great I AM. He has left, at least, the lurking place into which he seems to have crept after the eating of the fruit, and appears now a crushed and crest-fallen worm, writhing in the sunlight of the face of his Creator. How singular the meeting in such circumstances of the two grand foes, the archangel of darkness and the God of light! It is their first meeting, probably, since Lucifer was thrust out of heaven. And what a contrast! Then Lucifer was a powerful, magnificent, though lost being; now he is in the form of a snake, in the likeness of one of earth's basest reptiles; then he had the trace of the morning on his brow; now his eye and bearing are sunken and sullen: then he was the ruined angel; now he is the mean tempter and base deceiver: then he was striking, or had newly struck, at the throne of God; now he has succeeded in ruining the peace, and injuring the position of a happy human pair; then he was raging in defiance, and lifting up his voice against the Highest; now he is cowering in His presence, and not daring to utter a word in his own defence. It is significant that during this scene the serpent is quite silent; no question is asked of him, no reply is given; he is caught, as it were, in the fact, and there is no need of trial. Judgment is immediately pronounced. And what waves of torment, shame, self-loathing, disappointment, and fear cross his soul, as he listens, helpless, hopeless, speechless, to the words of God.

(G. Gilfillan.)

Though the serpent was but the instrument, yet he is cursed. And the words, "above all cattle," imply that the rest of the animal creation were made to share the curse which had come down upon it as Satan's special agent in the plot against man. And why this universal curse?

1. To show the spreading and contaminating nature of sin. One sin is enough to spread over a world. There is something in the very nature of sin that infects and defiles. It is not like a stone dropped in a wilderness, upon the sand, there to lie motionless and powerless. It is like that same stone cast into a vast waveless lake, which raises ripple upon ripple, and sends its disturbing influence abroad, in circle after circle, for miles on every side, till the whole lake is in motion.

2. To show how all the manifold parts of creation hang together and depend upon each other. One being displaced, all are ruined. The arch is not more dependent on the keystone than are the different parts of creaturehood dependent on each other for stability and perfection. It is as if the unity of the Godhead had its counterpart in the unity of creation. And, strange to say, it is the Fall that has so fully discovered this oneness, and made us acquainted with its manifold relations.

3. To be a monument of the evil of sin. Sin needs something visible, something palpable, to make known both its existence and its "exceeding sinfulness." It must exhibit itself to our senses. It must stand forth to view, branded with the stroke of God's judgment, as the abominable thing which He hates. Thus He has strewn the memorials of sin all over the earth. He has affixed them to things animate and inanimate, that we may see and hear and feel the vileness and the bitterness of the accursed thing.

(H. Bonar, D. D.)

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