The Predicament of Being Male: The Serpent’s Original Agenda, the Curse, Cain and his Lineage: A Remarkable Observation in the Hebrew Text
John C. Rankin (3 December 2018)
In the biblical text, the ancient serpent first appears with an angry agenda against the woman, this anger transfers to the man, then to Cain and then to his lineage. The consequences are devastating, and for which we all need the Savior.
1] At the beginning of the second sentence of Genesis 3:1, every one of the 20+ English translations I have seen — Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant — says something like this: “He said to the woman …” But in the Hebrew, there is one word which never gets translated right after this, ap or aph, which is the noun for the verb anap, “to be angry.”
Hebrew has only 900 root words, and context is crucial in translation. In nine clauses in the Tanakh (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:3; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; Psalms 86:15; 103:8 and 145:8), we read in English translation that Yahweh is “slow to anger.” The actual Hebrew is that Yahweh “has a long nose.” The primary meaning of anap is “nose.” The beards of ancient Hebrew men were thick, dark and high cheeked. When a Hebrew man becomes flush or hot with anger, it is not seen first on the cheeks, but on the nose. Thus, in the development of language, the word for “anger” in Hebrew becomes synonymous with “nose,” again, as context indicates. In these nine clauses in the Tanakh, metaphor and idiom collide, namely, that Yahweh is so slow to anger, that it is like having a long nose where it takes much time for his anger to reach the tip and become evident. A “long nose” does not work as metaphor or idiom in modern English, for it can become confused with the story of Pinocchio as a liar; likewise with “nosey” as it refers to a gossiper; and a “long fuse” does not work in a pre-dynamite era. So “slow to anger” works well in terms of meaning, but not metaphor or idiom. It is two-dimensional not three-dimensional.
In Genesis 3:1, a proper translation would be, “And the serpent said to the woman (in) anger …” Translating a noun in this syntax requires the (in), or some might translate it as an adverb, “angrily.” Grammar between different languages does not line up in many ways. Why then do translations ignore this word? I know of none that admit its presence. The answer lies in the identity of the serpent. Is it some undefined earthly creature, as in Jewish understanding? Or is it as John says in Revelation 12:9? The text refers to “… that ancient serpent, the one called the devil, or the Satan.” For Jewish scholars, they see no linguistic link between the few references to ha’satan (the Satan, the slanderer) in the Tanakh, and ha’nahash (the serpent). And for Christians scholars, the arguments I have read for the serpent being Satan derive from New Testament sources, and not from within the original Hebrew text. I believe the apostle John, and the whole New Testament, understand all Messianic fulfillments to be rooted in an original understanding of the Hebrew Bible as given.
2] In either case, the presence of an angry serpent means there is an agenda, a history in place, one that occasions an angry approach. What is it? Genesis 1-2 starts off with a positive theology (God’s nature) and a positive anthropology (human nature), but there is no formal demonology. The reason for this is that Satan’s fallen ontology means there is nothing positive in him, and thus he is entirely negative — the destroyer, slanderer, liar and murderer. So he cannot, by definition, be positively identified — but only via his negative self-manifestations. And this proves true across the Bible as Satan works through political proxies in particular to seek to destroy the Messianic lineage, the Messiah, Jesus, and now, after the resurrection, to destroy the believers in the Messiah through whom the Holy Spirit works until King Jesus returns and crushes Satan once and for all. This is large theological territory beyond my purview here, and it is central to Christian interpretation across the millennia. But virtually through the prism of post-Genesis texts.
Genesis 1:1 and 2:1 are dynamically linked in a way that marks a theological whole in the work of creation. In 1:1, we read: “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 2:1 marks the completion of Genesis 2:1: “And the heavens and the earth were finished in all their armies.” Now, few translations say “armies.” More common is “host” (an old word for armies or stars), or something silly like the NIV which says, “all their vast array.” But in the Hebrew is it simply tz’baam, “armies” or, if you will, “agents of warfare” (from tz’aba for war). Whenever we see in the translation of the Hebrew Bible, as found so often, “the LORD of hosts,” or “the LORD Almighty,” the actual Hebrew says “Yahweh of armies.” This traces back to Genesis 2:1. But if all is good in Genesis 1, what are “armies” doing there at its completion? What or whom is there to protect against or fight against? Of holy angels and fallen angels? Simply, the fall of Satan (always angry, whether implicitly or explicitly), with his demonic horde, as described later in both the Tanakh and New Testament, occurs after the creation begins but before its completion. This too, is large theological territory beyond our present scope, but needs mention to help us understand why the ancient serpent, Satan incarnate, is angry in Genesis 3:1.
In his anger — with man and woman as one in marriage, with their joint authority over all creation, and to whom the holy angels are servants — the devil only seeks to destroy their unity and trust in marriage, that through which civilization is to be built. He mocks their authority in masquerading as a serpent, and craftily channels his anger to get Hayyeh (rendered “Eve” in English translations) to act independently of Yahweh and Adam, and for Adam to act independently of Hayyeh and Yahweh. When Yahweh comes to judge, Adam blames Hayyeh and away we go …
3] In Genesis 3, the serpent is cursed, with no exit, and a war is prophesied between the seed of the serpent (those whom he kidnaps, the anti-Messianic lineage) and the seed of the woman (the Messianic lineage), where in the end the Messiah triumphs. War is the ugliest manifestation of anger. The curse that the woman brings upon herself, and likewise for the man upon himself, both take their complementary strengths (thighs and uterus in childbirth, and biceps in plowing and moving boulders), and turn them into weaknesses. Man and woman are wired to honor the image of God, but now they are handicapped. Large territory. But for here, let’s look at the first clause in Genesis 3:19, in the midst of the curse on the man. It is usually rendered something like: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” The actual Hebrew text is this: “By the sweat of your anger (from anap) you will eat your bread.” For the translator not aware of the serpent’s anger, and only assuming the curse to be physical in nature, not paying attention to the deeper spiritual realities, “the sweat of your nose” still makes no sense. It is not a runny nose at play, and the nearest physical possibility is the brow or forehead. It is a mismatch based on a faulty premise. There is no other use of anap in the Tanakh for “brow,” and the word rendered as “brow” (qadqod) is twice a word meaning “head” or “crown of the head.” There is no other proper word for “brow.” Which is to say, it is anap used in Genesis 3:19 and not qadqod.
4] For me, the understanding of producing food, making provision for my family, by the “sweat of my anger,” proves to be liberating. It is the frustrating reality in the pursuit of the good in a now broken world, and as catalyzed by Satan. All is spiritual warfare, and we ignore this to our peril. This is the curse upon the male in Genesis 3:19, but the anger is not initially a hostility against Yahweh, or against the well-being of others, as it is with the ancient serpent. But it is the “nose inside the camel’s tent” (to borrow a latter metaphor with deliberate pun), as the goal of Satan is to turn frustration and sweat into such anger. We wear ourselves out in a sinful world, eventually returning to the dust. For me, a sanguine personality, the ever “tunnel-view optimist” (as my father put it) in a broken world, I know this reality to the very verge of death, finally in terms of a demonic attack in Oxford, March 20, 2018. See my July 15, 2018 blog at www.johnrankin.org or click here for my website article.
In this world, we see so much male chauvinism. It sexually reifies (to treat as disposable property) girls and women, it hinders the possibility of future healthy marriages, it drives the ethos of the abortion industry, it leads to much otherwise unchosen and de facto disembodied single lifestyles, and too, it serves the broken and ultimately unsatisfying refuges in lesbianism and male homosexuality. It presages Sodom and Gomorrah, where across the whole biblical witness, this is where sexual anarchy morphs into social anarchy and the trampling of the poor and needy.
So, in the face of this reality, how many men, in their frustration and anger in seeking to do the good by their wives and children, fall prey to serious misunderstandings? All by the design of the ancient serpent?
5) This leads us to Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Both have the same parents, and both have the same “sweat of anger” to labor at in producing their food. Yet both have opposite ends — one proves to join the anger of the ancient serpent, and one chooses to praise Yahweh with thankfulness. Both are whom they are given to be, yet both become whom they choose to become. In his offering, Cain gives an undesignated portion of his produce, almost in a sense of a grudging acknowledgement of Yahweh’s Lordship and provision. But Abel gives from the “birthright” (literal Hebrew) of his produce, ergo, the best of his best, in an evident spirit of thanksgiving. There is also a pun at play. Cain holds the birthright as the first son, yet gives something secondary; Abel is a second son, yet gives the birthright. Giveness and giving back, with human freedom in place.
Yahweh “gazes” upon Abel and his gift, but not so with Cain. So Cain “burns greatly,” and his face falls. “And Yahweh said to Cain, ‘What burns so deeply in you? And what is it that your face fell? And whether you lift up the good, or if not the good, to the doorway, sin lies in wait and desires you, and you must rule it.’ ” The term for “burning greatly” is a deeper and manifest term for an anger that “hotly contends” (harah). Cain still has the power to choose the good, even while sin “lies in wait” to devour him (the language refers to a leopard ready to pounce on its prey, and here we see intimations of Peter’s language in 1:5:8 of the devil as a prowling lion). Cain must rule it or perish. But he fails in his freedom. His anger with Yahweh, seeded by the ancient serpent, turns into the murder of his younger brother. Indeed, it can be argued that any uncontrolled anger is first directed against God, in whose image we are made, and then it results in anger against our neighbor, made in God’s image, and can result in murder. The rest of the Bible flows on these assumptions about anger, from Cain to Lemech on forward, and can be readily detailed in a larger review.
Thus, in Cain and Abel, we see the reality that the male “sweat of the anger” can lead in one of two directions — acknowledged frustration that chooses to turn into gratefulness in spite of it, or a chosen uncontrolled anger rooted in the devil that leads to murder.
5] And this is the crucible upon which true manhood is forged. For those of us who are men, which road do we choose?