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There’s a Snake at Your Feet

There’s a Snake at Your Feet

Editor’s Note: The enemy is good at his job. He uses our desires against us, persuades us, tricks us, and lies to us all so we reach for that thing we think we need. He tells us God is holding out on us, but A. J. Swoboda reminds us in his new book, The Gift of Thorns, to be aware of temptations and fix our eyes on Jesus. Enjoy this excerpt:


Was the tree of knowledge of good and evil bad? No, God created this tree. It was a good tree.

Still, it was dangerous, and humans weren’t to eat from it. Satan’s appeal, then, was that the fruit of this tree was “good for food,” “pleasant to the eye,” and “desirable for wisdom.” Notice that Satan’s appeal to the humans is to take something that was good. The tree was good — just off limits for the humans.

This is often how temptation works. We are tempted to take good, beautiful, and glorious things and use them in unintended ways. Food, sex, and pleasure aren’t bad. But they can be dangerous, and their boundaries must be honored.

Just because something is desirable and good does not mean it is for us.

Satan is good at arousing human desire to use good things in ways God does not bless. This is why the ancient author of the Shepherd of Hermas said the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” aroused within humans something called “overcuriosity.”1 Satan was piquing interest.

The importance of this, in part, lay in us developing a maturing awareness that God can (and does) create good things that simply aren’t for us. Just because something is beautiful and desirable doesn’t mean it is for our desire’s consumption. The temptation for more than what’s been provided is how the serpent deceived the man and the woman — and how he often deceives us. There’s a reason the Sanskrit word for “war” is “desire for more cows.” Our world is ravaged by a desire for more. One could say it is the reason for most wars.

Humans had plenty. Yet the serpent aroused a desire for more. Upon believing this message, the woman “saw” and “took.” Notice how these two words are used together:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. — Genesis 3:6

We’re surprised to discover that the man was standing right there, “with her.” The text doesn’t put the weight of all responsibility on the woman’s shoulders. They both were there. The man was there too, watching, observing, and doing nothing. Yes, she saw, and she took. But he just passively watched.

This won’t be the last time seeing and taking are connected in biblical literature.2 When they are, something evil often takes place. For example, when King David observes from his Jerusalem rooftop the beautiful Bathsheba below, he sees and takes her (2 Samuel 11:2–5). And the prophet Samson sees a Canaanite descendent and takes her (Judges 14). Achan does the same thing as he observes the glories of the Babylonian cape, seeing and taking it for himself (Joshua 7:20–21) Time and again, humans see and take what’s not theirs. Perhaps Ariana Grande was reading her Bible when she wrote her famous song: “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.”

  • One telltale sign of a world rebelling against its Creator is that its God-given limitations and boundaries are thrown aside.

As Dallas Willard put it, “I will have what I desire.”3 Sinful humanity, in its newfound “freedom,” seeks to take and conquer and steal that which it was not given. This is the essence of sin and the danger of unmitigated desire: seeing and taking what isn’t ours. We see and take when we abuse or weaponize sexuality. Those in power see and take the lands and places of others. All of us see and take when we store up greedily and mercilessly hoard more than what’s needed. It’s the spirit of Julius Caesar who declared in the battle of Zela, “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”). All sin, at its core, is the act of seeing and taking something that isn’t given by God.4

This story of Genesis 3 can be read alongside Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4. There, Jesus comes face-to-face with Satan and faces three temptations: to turn stones into bread, to jump off a high place, and to bow down and worship Satan so he might have the nations. One of these temptations particularly parallels the Genesis 3 account:

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give You,’ he said, ‘if You will bow down and worship me’. — Matthew 4:8–9

The serpent promises to give Jesus all of the kingdoms, or nations, if and only if Jesus bows down and worships Satan. Go back to the garden where the serpent makes a promise to the woman:

‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’. Genesis 3:4–5

The serpent promises, “You will be like God.” But there was a catch. The woman had to obey the serpent’s words to receive the serpent’s promise. A thread weaves between these two accounts. What’s the singular problem with offering Jesus the nations? All the nations and kingdoms were already His. What’s the singular problem with offering the woman to be “like God”? She had already been endowed with the image of God from the moment of her creation.

  • By a simple question, he convinces her that she wasn’t already like God through the mother tongue of the serpent: insinuation.

Both stories put the serpent’s methodia on full display. He offers us the gift of something we already have in God. He often awakens our desires for something God has already provided for us. In short, he awakens our desires by insinuating that we are missing out. This is where our desire becomes most twisted. As Jen Pollock Michel writes, “And here is how desire becomes corrupt: wanting derails into selfishness, greed and demanding ingratitude when we’ve failed to recognize and receive the good that God has already given.”5

There’s a solution: awakening to the reality that there’s no such thing as “missing out” when we are in Christ. As Paul wrote,

All things are yours. — 1 Corinthians 3:21

There is no missing out in Jesus. No, we won’t be fulfilled when we get married because we are already fulfilled in Christ. No, we don’t have to find our own identities because we already have names and love in the One who named us and made us. No, we won’t experience true happiness when we get the job or the paycheck we want because we are already, now, full of the presence and grace of God.

When you begin believing you are missing out, look down. There’s some snake at your feet. The serpent awakens our flesh by trying to convince us that we lack something. This is just his old bag of tricks.

  1. Shepherd of Hermas, vision III, iii, 1, trans. Bart D. Ehrman, in The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 2, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
  2. I would like to thank my friend Tim Mackie for repeatedly highlighting the connec- tion between seeing and taking in his teaching work and ministry.
  3. Dallas Willard, “Beyond Pornography: Spiritual Formation Studied in a Particular Case,” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 9, no. 1 (2006): 8.
  4. Robert Jenson once quipped that this was Satan’s method: “Above all, God gives himself among us, Satan’s difference from God is unambiguously exposed. God gives. Satan can only suck reality into the vacuum of his own heart.” See Robert Jenson, “Evil as Person,” Lutheran Theological Seminary Bulletin 69, no. 1 (1989): 39.
  5. Jen Pollock Michel, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 84. Emphasis mine.

Excerpted with permission from The Gift of Thorns by A. J. Swoboda, copyright A. J. Swoboda.

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Your Turn

Is there something you feel you are lacking? What is it? Name it and place it before the Throne of God. Ask Him to speak to you about your desire and point your heart in the right direction. Ask Him to show you if it’s that old snake hissing in your ear again, pulling his old tricks. Remind your heart that you’re not missing out! ~ Devotionals Daily