This is not, or at least, should not be, unfamiliar territory. The Story of the Fall of Adam, repeated throughout Scripture, in one way or another, is very recognizable as one of the themes of the Story of Israel. The History of Israel is plagued with spots, like leprosy, that became a blot, rather than a blessing to the nations. A blot, I say, though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for through it, through Israel's several captivities ( Exile ) the Gospel, the Good News of the Creator's Love for His Creation, was spread throughout the known world.
Why did the Creator God even plant the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the Garden, when He should have known, in His omniscience, that Adam & Eve wouldn't be able to keep their hands off of it?' Questions like this have engendered Calvinist & Hyper-Calvinist notions that the Creator God was testing His Creation by placing such a temptation before them. 'Knowing they would disobey Him, the argument might be presented, 'He did this so that He could send His Son to save them from their sin'. This might engender other questions though; questions like, 'why go through all that? Why not just make them perfect in the first place so Jesus didn't have to die? In fact, why not just send Jesus in the first place?'
The fact is, the idea of a talking snake has never set quite right. Sure, there are other stories of animals becoming verbose in Scripture ( well, one other, anyway-Balaam's donkey-Numbers 22 ), but this is not something that is easy for us, especially with our Western mindset, to visualize. With the advent of the Saturday morning cartoon, animals talking with human voices has become a more or less familiar concept, though & so the notion of a snake or donkey talking does not seem so much of a stretch, especially when combined with the constructs that they were, for that time, possessed by a different spirit, whether good or evil.
The Nature of the Story of Israel, especially when approached from its Ancient Near Eastern context, should be noted as that of literature; a literal history, maybe, relating actual events, but in a way that reveals a deeper spiritual meaning. Take, for instance, the notion that many Christians still cling to; that of a global flood: was the Great Flood of Noah's Day one that covered every square inch of planet earth as a casual reading of certain Scriptures seems to indicate, or was the Author telling the Story in such a way, along with the unbelievable Story of the Ark, to cast forth a Revelation of the Son of God, He who would save the world ( John 3:16 ) from their sin ( ignorance ). The internal & external evidence, when approached with a ready mind, point rather to a localized flood ( if indeed it happened at all, at least as we understand it ), though, at that time, global in its scope!
'If the Great Flood never occurred, to say nothing of Adam's Fall ( complete with the talking snake ), then how can we be sure that the Story of Jesus' Humble Birth was an actual event?' The Virgin Birth might well be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny, for even though we can imagine the mere possibility of a Spirit Being impregnating a human being ( Genesis 6 ), we also know that it usually takes sperm to fertilize an egg. This is not to say that the Story, as we understand it, is complete bunk, but it is safe to say that it is, at least, indicative of something greater.
The Fall of Adam, when viewed with the vision that hindsight affords, is an obvious metaphor for the larger Story of Israel! Though rife with dissonance, the arguments against Adam as the first Israelite have convinced many of their validity. As with the Great Flood & other Scriptural accounts, the notion that these events were anything but literal occurrences seems ridiculous to most Christians. Covenant Creation, along with its forbear, Covenant Eschatology, has been gaining ascendancy in the past few years. The relatively new idea has surfaced within the past decade or so that Adam was not the first human being to inhabit planet earth, but that he was simply the first covenant man, the first Son of God, representative of Israel.
Whether or not the mythical serpent that tempted our first 'parents' in the Garden was possessed by 'Satan',another mythical creature, or whether the Story of the Fall was imagined to put the greater Story of Israel in terms they could better understand, it should be obvious that its not as simple as a talking snake & a forbidden fruit! We may simply understand it as an apocalypse, a revelation if you will, of the Story of Israel. Is it only that? Is it simply a metaphorical re-telling ( or is that 'pre-telling'? ) of a much greater spiritual truth? To focus overmuch on such questions is to miss the point & sadly, wars, both real & metaphorical, have been fought over less!
If only the Creator God had not planted that damn tree ( the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ) alongside the Tree of Life! What was He thinking?! If Adam had not sinned, Jesus wouldn't have had to die, right!? The idea of our Heavenly Father as a vindictive, petty sort of God is most likely due in part to ancient pagan myths & thus are the Hebrew Scriptures so colored, but the notion of the Creator God sacrificing His Son, like Abraham almost did-Genesis 22:1-19, has always rankled.
Like the metaphor of the Shepherd & the Sheep, though, the Ancient Near Eastern Culture with which Scripture is interwoven was a culture ( still is ) of bloodshed. We are all familiar with the apostle's words in Hebrews 9:22, 'without shedding of blood there is no remission': why cannot sin be forgiven WITHOUT taking life? In our culture, especially the modern Western mindset, this may seem strange, but in the culture from which the Scriptures came, there was nothing strange about it; it was a way of life! Long before Israel came on the scene, in fact, sacrificing human beings even, not just animals, was not unheard of, as a way in which to appease the gods.
Israel was the Creator God's Son, His Lamb, who was fattened ( in the beginning ) to serve as a sacrificial offering, for a pleasing aroma ( Genesis 8:21 ). This was a metaphorical sacrifice, but it had & has real-world consequences: look at the apostle's words recorded in Romans 12:1; 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [ which is ] your reasonable service'. The Greater Spiritual Truth to which all the blood-sacrifices of that first covenant pointed was the metaphorical sacrifice of our lives to the Cause of the Christ!
Charles Haddon Shank