My grandpa, known to me and a few others as “the Old Bear,” always told me, “Never lead with your right, son.” To him, boxing was a sport, and one of the fundamental tactics was for the boxer to jab and lead with the left – to lead otherwise made the boxer’s face an open target. As it has turned out so far, the only “boxing matches” I ever got into didn’t involve a ring, and I tended to lead with my nose. Those were short matches. But I never forgot the Old Bear’s advice. I often wondered who came up with it first.
Lately, I think I’ve got it figured out. Not to cast a shadow on my grandpa’s memory, but I’m considering the possibility that the first boxer to jab-jab-jab with the left and save the roundhouse right for the knockout punch was, well, the serpent who makes his first appearance in Genesis 3. I’ll submit a scene from that chapter as evidence:
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’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5).
Very crafty, indeed. Consider how you would have answered the question. Was the serpent asking if God had forbidden eating from any tree, meaning no tree was to be eaten from? Or was it that a particular tree was off limits? Did God say, “You shall not” at all? It was a carefully crafted question. The easiest answer would be, “Well, yes and no,” because part of what the serpent was asking about what God said was accurate, and part of what the serpent was asking about what God said was inaccurate – a conundrum encased in dilemma. Forgive yourself for being a bit confused at this point.
The serpent was jabbing: leading with the left, leading with a question. He could retreat or regroup if the question encountered anything so solid as fact – fact, as in, what the Lord God had actually said. But his jabs met a soft target: the woman’s answer was tentative. Just like the serpent’s question, part of it was indeed what the Lord God had said, and part of it was made up. The serpent would try one more jab – more forceful this time, and in the form of a statement – intended to stun the opponent and hide the arrival of the incoming right-hand freight train. Jab: “You will not surely die” (verse 4).
The last jab landed with no resistance, leading to the KO punch:
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (verse 5).
There it is, the roundhouse right, and mankind has been on the mat ever since. What made the difference between this punch and the jabs? Precisely this: Defaming God’s character. Once the serpent saw the opening he moved quickly to not only presuming to know what God knows, but also assigning evil motives to what the Lord God had commanded.
Let’s pause and figure out what just happened here. First of all, realize that the woman was not alone with the serpent: verse 6 says she gave fruit to the man who was with her; also, each occurrence of “you” in verses 1-5 is plural in the original language. Next, realize that the man and woman were blessed-and-instructed to fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over… every living thing that moves on the earth (1:28) – which, of course, would include the serpent. Lastly, consider the sheer craftiness of the serpent’s tactics: What might have happened if he had led straight in with defaming the Lord God’s character? My guess (and I think it’s a solid one) goes like so: Truth would’ve awakened in the man and his wife; they would’ve looked at each other like, “Who does this clown think he is?”; and would promptly have told the serpent, as the Old Bear was fond of saying, “Go jump in the lake!”
Alas, the serpent’s plan succeeded (I sometimes think he was more surprised than anybody else). Instead of exercising dominion, the man and woman made room for a statement that was exactly opposite (You will not surely die) what the Lord God had actually said (you shall surely die – 2:16), and let the deception roll onward. Bottom line: they obeyed the creature rather than the Creator. And it was only possible through the subtlety of leading with the left – testing the opponents’ defenses with the small stuff before committing to the big blow.
Last week I promised to write to you, Church, about the one and only item that goes straight into the Reject category among the Three R’s: Receive – Reject – Redeem. For the first nine weeks of this series, it’s been all about redemption; and if we keep looking, we might find an item or two for the Receive file. But today, we have to take out the trash. I hope you had a slop bucket ready as you began reading this letter, because here it is. Whatever defames God’s character and assigns evil motives to his righteous decrees can be tossed into that bucket, because it’s not fit for human consumption.
There’s a line that gets crossed. With any cultural scenario – and remember: in this “Three R’s” series we’re dealing with the intersection of culture and faith – it’s all right to assume pure motives. It’s not all right to leave any cultural scenario in the realm of assumption – we’re not in Eden anymore, Toto. As you investigate, watch out for the craftier tactics; don’t expect the line to be terribly obvious. Just like with the serpent, the last jab might go something like: “I’m smarter than God.” From there, it’s a split-second to the knockout punch. Do not – repeat: Do Not participate in assigning evil motives to our holy God.
Since I’m called to be a teacher in this congregation (with much fear and trembling, I’ll assure you), a good old How-To may be in order: How to defend ourselves from the subtle tactics that lead to the knockout. I’ll give the second-best defense first: Find out what the Lord God actually said. How handy would it have been if Adam had trimmed the shrubbery in the Garden to read what the Lord God had commanded him in Genesis 2:16-17? How handy would it have been if Adam had faithfully – and accurately – conveyed the command to his wife? Where they might have kept the Lord God’s words on hand, we most certainly can. Are you feeling the jab-jab-jab? Exercise some dominion, in Jesus’ name, and tell the adversary to cool it a second while you find what was actually said. And if you’re surprised that I – informally known as the Bible Guy around our place – would offer the consultation of Scripture as the second-best defense… well, so am I.
But the first-best defense is like unto it, and this is where our two-year through the Bible reading plan comes in (as you knew it would). This week, we’re in the last several Psalms of the 150 in our Bibles. Have you noticed the pattern? They’re all about pure, outlandishly true praise of the Lord our God. As you search out what was actually said, you’ll find in Scripture that praise was said and sung and played – I suggest rolling with that! Here’s a sample from a couple days ago:
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made (Psalm 145:8-9).
Evil motives don’t fit with gracious and merciful.
In case you were wondering, “the lake” is precisely the serpent’s ultimate destination – that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan… who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur (Revelation 20:2, 10). No redemption for the serpent, whose strategies are raised against the knowledge of God (2Corinthians 10:5), nor for any strategy that persists in those ways. You won’t get anywhere good, Christian, participating in them. Into the slop bucket they go.
Thankfully, as the Old Bear was also apt to tell me, we have a one-two punch of our own – Scripture and Praise.
Grace and Peace (for the good fight),