The Serpent

Some time ago, a man asked: “Pastor Linzey, I am sure you have heard about Eve talking DSCN8248with a snake in the Garden of Eden. Do you really believe that non-sense?”

I’ve been asked that question on numerous occasions, but normally it’s worded a little more kindly.

The Scripture in question is Genesis 3 which starts with (KJV), “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field.” The narrative continues with Eve carrying on a conversation with this being; then verse fourteen says, “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” This story is crucial to understanding the history of mankind, the Bible, and our faith.

Several different Old Testament words are used for serpent and the translations or applications are: serpent, snake, image, dragon, fleeing serpent, whale, sea monster, river monster, dinosaur, fiery serpent, majestic beings, seraphim, afraid, worms, and crawling.  The word for serpent in Genesis 3:1 is nachash and has been rendered serpent; not because it was a snake, but because it hissed. In medieval literature we read that witches hissed. This word hiss means to prognosticate (know the future), whisper a magic spell or an enchantment. Snakes cannot do that, and that is the first clue that the serpent was not an animal.

Another thing to consider is that snakes don’t have vocal chords. That’s the second clue.

Thirdly, Genesis 1:28 says in part, “…Rule over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Therefore, Eve would not take instruction from an animal even if it could talk. But she would take instruction from a god-like being. Hold on to that thought.

Genesis 3 starts out: “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field….” The fourth clue is that this word “subtil” (subtle) means in part: cunning, crafty, shrewd, clever, intelligent. It also infers being bare, smooth, no fur, and to give bad counsel. The better versions do not say “more subtil than any other beast”; rather, “more subtil than any beast.” Even the wording here sets this serpent apart from the animal kingdom.

The serpent (snake) was considered a type of god in many other cultures around the world, and even in parts of Europe up to the 18th century. For example:

>Ningizzida (supposedly the ancestor of Gilgamesh) was sometimes depicted as a snake with a human head, eventually becoming a god of healing and magic.

>The Cambodian Khmer people are said to be the descendants of the Naga (snake god) – Princess Soma – and her husband.

>Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent depicted here), was the principal god of the Aztecs.

>Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great and a princess of the land of Epirus, claimed that the serpent (title for one of the gods) was Alexander’s father. This allowed Alexander to be deified. All involved fully understood that a snake was not being called Alexander’s father.

>The word serpent is of Latin origin (serpens, serpentis), is commonly used in a mythical or religious context, and was often related to deity.

Where am I going with this? Eve was not approached by a snake climbing a tree and eerily hissing or whispering at her. Eve, created in the image of God, would not have been persuaded by a lowly animal – even if it could talk.

It was, also, Lucifer, the fallen arch angel – not a snake – who met with and tempted Jesus in the desert. The Apostle Paul said (2 Corinthians 11:14) that Lucifer can appear as “an angel of light” (knowledge). God created Adam and Eve, and granted them more wisdom and knowledge than any other humans in history. They didn’t have a sin nature so they could not be tempted to sin. But God instilled a free will so they could make their own decisions.

As Lucifer tempted Jesus, he previously tempted Eve. Jesus was not deceived, but Eve was. Adam was not deceived: he disobeyed and made a bad decision.DSCN1638

The phrase “on your belly and dust you shall eat” is an old curse still used in the Middle-East today, and is meant to humiliate someone; but it doesn’t mean that the person will actually grovel in the dirt and eat dirt.

Conclusion: Eve, who had not seen God as Adam did, did not converse with a snake. Lucifer appeared in a form (Angel of Light) that resembled Adam’s description of God. We do not disdain or disparage women because of Eve. She was not ignorant or stupid: Satan tricked her. Eve was the most intelligent and the most knowledgeable woman ever to grace this planet. But Eve did not speak with a snake; rather she spoke with a being who looked like Adam’s description of God.

Anti-Social Hummingbirds

“Hummingbirds are so cute” Carol said. We saw then flitting around the yard several times, and Carol suggested that we buy a feeder to give them a treat. At Wal-Mart we found two feeders: one for a dollar and one for six. We bought the cheaper one just to see if the critters would flock to our yard.

There are about 300 species of these aerial acrobats. They live only in the western hemisphere: twelve of which spend the summer in North America. They flap their wings from 50-200 times per second, fly up to 34 mph – even upside down, weigh up to three DSCN8828Bquarters of an ounce, average four to five inches long, have a heartbeat of 225 beats per minute at rest and up to 1,260 beats per minute in flight, and have an average lifespan of about four years.

We bought the feeder and a bag of Instant Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate. Filling the container with the red juice, we hung it on a pole just outside the dining room window so we could observe the poor little critters as they enjoyed our gift of life. At first one or two visited us, but then all activity stopped. Curious, I stepped outside to see if there was a problem with the feeder.

There wasn’t a problem with the hummingbird feeder, but with a hummingbird eater. TheDSCN8421B neighbor’s cat was waiting for breakfast to appear. But when he saw me, he sauntered off for less populated pastures.

Within minutes, a green ruby-throated hummer zoomed up. He came within six inches of the port, hovered as he looked around, nervously darted back and forth, seeing if anyone was going to attack him. He finally inserted his needle-like bill, had lunch, and zoomed to the nearest crepe-myrtle tree.

I thought he had tired himself out hovering while drinking and needed to rest. Wrong!

As Carol and I watched, two other hummers zoomed up, stopped in mid-air to see if it was safe, and approached the ports. The first critter came back at full-throttle and attacked the newcomers! Apparently, as the first visitor, this pugnacious little rascal had laid claim to my feeder.

I wanted to catch the little beast and take him miles away, but I learned that another one would just take his place. They are territorial, and it is definitely first-come-first-served. But upon reading about them, I found that they need to eat/drink more than their weight in nectar each day merely to stay alive. That alone explains why they are viciously protective of their find. It’s a fight for survival.

So, where we hoped to make life easier for these cute little creatures (that are relentlessly in search of food) by being nice to them, we were merely successful in creating a new battle-ground for them.

That reminds me of back in 1958 when my father asked me, “Would you like to see someone become angry by being nice to him?” I incredulously asked, “How can that happen?” Dad said, “Just watch.”

Relativity 15BHe called for two of my brothers. Dad gave one a dime, and the other a nickel. The one who received the nickel exclaimed, “That’s not fair! I should get a dime, too!” Dad asked, “What’s not fair about it? You both received a gift. You didn’t earn it and it is not part of your weekly allowance. It’s extra. Go spend it.” The one brother was unhappy and began fussing until Dad gave him another nickel – which was his plan anyway. Then Dad told me, “Don’t forget that lesson. It will come in handy sometime.”

It sure did. Throughout my adult life, I’ve worked to support and accrue benefits for my family. But some of our citizens are truly handicapped and cannot support themselves, so our elected leaders have made benefits available to them – and rightly so. But many others have seen “the feeder with the red juice” and zoomed up full throttle to claim and demand gifts that are not rightfully theirs.

But there is a better way to live.

If people could see who Jesus really is, see all that he offers to those of us who listen, and the minimal he asks from us in return, life would be much more meaningful. Matthew 6:33Bible says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you [assure that you have] everything you need.” Living by that principle would greatly reduce stress and result in greater fulfillment in life. 

I’ll continue feeding the hummers, but I strongly admonish you readers: live to honor Jesus, and reap his rewards.

The Caterpillar and the Butterfly

Monarch CaterpillarThe caterpillar emerged from its egg and opened its twelve eyes. It didn’t know what to expect; all it did was to crawl out on its leaf and see what the world was all about. But the leaf turned over, and the caterpillar lost its footing and fell onto the grass. “Wow! That was fun!” it said.

The caterpillar has sixteen legs, but only six of them are true legs. The others assist in holding onto twigs and leaves.

The worm was starving, so it began eating the green things it fell on.  He liked grass, but he also ate some big flat things that fell off the trees. Leaves were stiffer and tasted better.

The little guy spent most of its waking hours eating. Over the next week, he crawled all around the yard to experience life, eating every step of the way. Then it discovered a bush – the one he fell from, but didn’t know it. “Wow! If I can get up there, I could see EVERYTHING.”

So it spent the next half hour climbing up the intertwining twigs of that three-foot bush. When it reached the summit, it looked out over the yard. “Wow! I didn’t know I could see the whole world. This is great!”

The little worm had hatched on this bush that was planted in a small enclosure that served as a safe play lot for the four-year-old human. To the worm, this was a huge world; but to an adult human, the 15’ x 15’ play lot surrounded by a six-foot wooden fence was very small.

The caterpillar looked over the world often, and was amazed at the size of it.

After several days it began thinking, “I wonder what’s on the other side of the world?” So it climbed off the bush and began climbing up the six-foot wooden fence to take a look. In a few hours it reached the top. “Wow! There are more worlds to see.”

Then something orange and black floated above its head. Monarch

“What are you doing down there?” asked the orange thing.

“I am trying to see other worlds. I’ve been searching my world and ….” The worm suddenly realized that the orange thing was flying.

“Hey! How do you do that? How did you get up there?”

“I am a monarch butterfly, just like you will be in a few days. After you crawl for the last time and wrap yourself in a blanket, you will die. But, don’t worry, you will come back alive. It will be difficult climbing out of the blanket because it gets real hard after you die. But when you come back alive, you will look different – like me. The world you know now is only a tiny part of the bigger world. You will fly like I am, and you will like it! Well, I have to go now. I am flying with hundreds of my friends to a far-away place. Don’t forget what I said. Bye.”

 “Wow! I didn’t know any of that. How did she figure it out? Well, I will think about that later because I am starving!”

About five days later, the caterpillar began feeling sick. Then it thought, “Maybe what the butterfly said is happening. I better go to the bush and start making a blanket.”

So it did. It was in the pupa stage, or chrysalis, for ten to twelve days. And it had a difficult time breaking out of its hard blanket – like the butterfly said. But that terrible ordeal was planned by God in order to make its wings strong, and able to fly.

We’re like caterpillars. We crawl around, viewing life like the worm does, thinking this DSCN0402.Bphysical life is all there is. We’re oblivious to the reality “beyond the fence.” But our world is very small, and God wants us to see “the bigger world” from his perspective – more like the butterfly.

The secret to understanding reality is to die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (NKJV).

Dying to ourselves means we learn to know God and put his desires ahead of our own, and do what he wants us to do. Then we begin to see and understand from his perspective. And at the end of life, we fly to the bigger world: God’s home in heaven.

And that’s only the beginning!

The Cat, Rabbit, and Hawk

DSCN8427“Carol, look in the back yard!” I called to my wife. A large cat was lying motionless on the lawn intently observing something. But why was it there? What was it looking at?

Many animals visit our yard: squirrels, rabbits, lizards, opossums, racoons, over thirty varieties of birds, and four varieties of snakes. At times we are visited by deer, turtles, the neighbor’s pets, and this stray cat. 

We’ve always been partial to cats and rabbits because they are soft and cuddly. Well, I DSCN8448was partial to rabbits until I planted our garden. The furry little creatures seem to have a taste for my beet greens, Carol’s pea plants, and our broccoli. As I was chasing one rabbit out of the garden, I hollered, “Have you ever heard of rabbit stew?” The leporid probably didn’t hear me as it darted through – yes, THROUGH – the chain link fencing. I didn’t know they could fit through the diagonal openings. From the next yard it stopped, turned around, and looked at me as if to say, “You can’t catch me!” only to run for its furry life as the neighbor’s barking dog took up the chase. Good dog!

In deference to Carol, I decided not to shoot the furry critters; but I also announced that I would no longer run out and chase them out of the organic grocery store. And in time the rabbits felt safe and became more lethargic as they regained emotional control of the yard. This brings us back to the motionless cat in the back yard.

Carol and I observed the cat’s posture and the direction it was facing. It was flat on the ground, ears laid back, eyes just above the grass-line – reminding us of a lion on the prowl. Then Carol asked, “Is that a dog in the garden?” I saw a brown animal, but from my vantage point of looking through the tomato bush, I couldn’t tell. Then, the brown thing moved.

 “It’s a … is it an … owl?” I asked incredulously? Then it raised its head, and with a three-foot wingspan it gracefully flew away. BW Hawk

 “It’s a big hawk!” Carol exclaimed. It was a beautiful, mature Broad-winged Hawk. These birds can see a rabbit from two miles away, but with our trees surrounding the yard, it must have been a mile straight up. And with a deathly-quiet diving velocity of almost 200 MPH, the unwary rabbit didn’t have a chance. Why did the Broad-wing leave without finishing its dinner?

Then the large cat stood up and … large cat? It was a normal-sized critter. What happened? The feline apparently had several things going through its cunning little mind: “I’ve never seen a bird that big! Is it edible? Make myself look as large as possible for protection. Proceed with caution!”

The critter flattened and made itself look as wide as possible and was inching its way toward the hawk; but the hawk finally saw the “large” cat approaching, got nervous, and flew for safety. The cat walked up to where the bird had been, saw the rabbit’s carcass, decided it wasn’t that hungry, then it also left the scene of the crime. That left just the lifeless intruder and me. At that point I wasn’t upset with the rabbit, and actually felt sorry for it.

As I buried it, I began thinking about the situations we humans get into. The hapless rabbit merely wanted a tasty salad, and ventured out into the open where it was unprotected. What is it that misguided humans want? People often venture into areas of life that God has declared off limits because they are dangerous physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our conscience and the Holy Spirit try to keep us out of the “garden” but as we focus on the “beet greens, pea plants, and the broccoli” of life, we tune out the warnings and gradually become insensitive to the dangers accompanying our actions. Then judgment dscn0464appears “out of the blue,” like that Broad-winged Hawk after the rabbit. Then we ask, “How did I get caught?”

We have no excuse because Romans 2:15 tells us, “In their hearts they [people] know what is right and wrong, just as the law commands. And they show this by their consciences. Sometimes their thoughts tell them they did wrong, and sometimes their thoughts tell them they did right.

The rabbit let its guard down, lived carelessly, and died. Let’s not make that mistake: but obey Scripture, honor Jesus Christ and others, and live.

God Said What?

God said “Let us make man in our image.” And when I say “God,” I mean Jehovah, YHWH, the Creator, Jesus, the Supreme God in the Bible. So, if we’re made in His image, what does God look like? Has anyone seen Him?

Not lately, but Abraham might have, Moses saw God’s afterglow, and Adam conversed with God daily – for a while.

The Scriptures tell us: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; PICT0617male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God is a spiritual being, and we are spiritual beings – inside human bodies. Mankind was the high point of God’s creative work here on earth. God created us as an entirely new species, quite different from animals. And to emphasize this distinction, God placed man over the animals. In Genesis 1:28 God told Adam, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Animals can’t do that.

How else are we different from critters? Mankind is capable of conscious, meditative, cognitivePICT0608 interaction. Evolutionist Julian Huxley noted that “Only humans possess true language, conceptual thought, art, humor, science and religion.” And only humans can record and direct the course of history. Humans can express themselves analytically. And it is obvious that only humans have the ability to communicate through complex, multi-lingual skills. All this sets mankind apart from the animal kingdom.

Marriage is another example of how we’re made in the image of God. Adam and Eve’s union was much more significant than two beings openly mating in the jungle like monkeys or dogs. Marriage was specifically one male with one female (a homosexual union goes against nature and against God’s plan. Romans 1:21-28). Marriage is a compassionate, loving, fruitful, spiritual and social union.

As humans who are made in the image and likeness of God, we reflect many attributes of our heavenly Father. These spiritual and moral attributes allow us to commune and fellowship with people and with God. Attributes like love, mercy, and justice are only three examples of Godly qualities available to mankind if we accept them. God created us to enjoy relationships so that we can spend time with Him, talk with Him, and fellowship with Him. This is not the nature of animals.

Some people say that mankind is no greater than the animal kingdom, and is why man should limit his population growth while protecting the animal species. I suppose they haven’t noticed several animal traits that civilized humanity does not endorse, such as: Some animals eat their own kind – but we do not condone cannibalism. Some animals kill and eat their offspring – but we do not condone infanticide or eating our babies. (Correction: humans do commit infanticide in the form of abortion. Even today, legislatures are debating whether or not doctors can kill babies who were born alive.) Animals do not care for the elderly – but because of Godly compassion, DSCN3768humans do care for the elderly. Animals do not have the intellectual,DSC02812.B emotional, and relational mentality, or the skill or ability to interact and build an enhanced society; but man has been to the moon and back. Instead, animals have continued their lives without change for the past recorded 6,000 years. When you hear or read some scientist say that 98% of our genes are shared with some animals, don’t get excited about it. They also say we share about 50% of our genes with bananas. So the statistics are meaningless.

Most importantly, only humans can experience faith. We alone, of all earthly creation, can worship and trust our Creator and enter into a relationship with Him. Humans have the ability to choose to worship God or not; to acknowledge Almighty God as sovereign or claim another personage (human, spirit – created, or imaginary – as either a sovereign or co-existent deity), tree, rock, or any other created thing as a god. Humans gather for the purpose of worshiping corporately. Animals cannot do any of this.

God is a communicator Who cares for us and guides those who listen to Him. He made us to help others in like manner. And He defeated sin and death for us through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection so that we can be with Him and enjoy our relationship with Him forever.

What did God say? “Let us make man in our image.” And He did. If we purposely live for God and honor Him, we can be part of His eternal plan. You’ll be glad you did because the benefits will be out of this world!