The Danger of The Green Eyed Monster

When I was a kid I wondered why we said someone could be “Green with envy.” Why not say someone was “orange with envy?” Back then, I thought it had to do with money. Money was green and that seemed to be what most people envied. If we search the history of the envy’s association with green, we find it goes way back to Shakespeare. Pick up Othello, The Merchant of Venice, or Anthony and Cleopatra and you’ll find the “green-eyed monster” in some form. That’s around 500 years of English speaking tradition right there.

Maybe, the association with green comes from the Greeks. For the Greeks, green (or paleness) was the color of sickness. Envy is a sickness, after all. It can eat away at a man’s soul like cancer. I’ve seen it destroy the life of a few people. It affects our vision of others and ourselves, our speech, and our actions. The funny thing that I’ve observed about envy is that when someone is consumed with it they can’t see the danger. In fact, with the examples I’ve seen, they think everyone else has a problem—not them.

We don’t hear a lot of warnings in sermons about envy today. We have warnings about sexual immorality, sharing our faith, or how to be the church—but hardly about envy. Maybe it is because I am a protestant and an evangelical protestant at that. We emphasize missions and the gospel (both good things) rather than individual, albeit dangerous, sins. Though often overlooked, envy is a big sin—it made the list of the seven deadliest for the Catholic church.

Clement of Rome saw the danger in envy. In his First Epistle he warns his readers against it. According to Clement Cain murdered Abel because of envy. He says, “Ye see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother. Through envy, also, our father Jacob fled from the face of Esau, his brother. Envy made Joseph be persecuted unto death, and to come into bondage.” (Ch. 4) The list of those charged with envy by Clement stretches from Moses to David. You may find Clement’s reading of the text exegetically flawed, but something is at work there. Was it just sin nature that caused Cain to murder his brother? Or, can we name that sin as envy? It isn’t that much of a stretch, even if envy isn’t mentioned in the passage.

Clement goes on to say, “Envy had alienated wives from their husbands, and changed that saying of our father Adam, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.’ Envy and strife have overthrow great cities and rooter up mighty nations.” (Ch. 6) Envy divides. It erodes the created order of human relationships. Even the most intimate of relationships are broken because of envy. It is sickness that says, “I am the important one here! Not You!”

There is a cure for envy though.  It is the gospel (protestants rejoice!)

“Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares,” says Clement, “and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.” (Ch. 7)

Dare we suggest that those “vain and fruitless cares” that Clement mentions might include “envy?” I don’t think it is a stretch. Envy plays a prominent part in the previous paragraphs leading up to this quote and would be in the back of the reader’s mind.

So, the cure of envy is simple (if we depend on Christ). Look to Christ and his gospel. Remember the wealth of love that we have in Him. Place our hope in Him not in material wealth or recognition.

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Word Play And Irony

I already gave one reflection from my meditation on the first temptation. This new post comes solely from a look at it in Hebrew. Don’t check out yet if you don’t know Hebrew, it is easy to explain. There is no deeper meaning here other than exposing a wordplay. All you need to know is the English word homonym. It means a word that has the same sound as another but has different meanings. In this case, we have words from different roots making similar sounds (one is in the singular and the other is in the plural, but I don’t think the word play is lost).

In Genesis 3:1 the serpent is called “crafty” or “clever.” The word in Hebrew is עָר֔וּם. For English speakers, you would pronounce it something like “a room.” By describing the serpent this way, the author is preparing the reader for a display of the craftiness of the serpent. So, reader, be prepared.

We already know the story so well, we might miss how he does this. The man and the woman both ate the fruit and disobeyed the command of God. That’s the part we already know. But, the real question is, “Why does the text say that they ate the fruit?” The answer may lie in what the serpent said would happen to them and what they desired by eating the fruit. The serpent says,

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (3:5). (ESV)

The serpent says three things will happen when they eat the fruit. 1) Their eyes (yes, the serpent says “you’s guys eyes”) will be opened. 2) They will be like God. 3) They will know good and evil.

When the woman looks at the fruit, the author tells the reader why she desires to eat the fruit. The narrator says,

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (3:6) (ESV)

There are, then, three things that the woman sees as desirable from the fruit. 1) It is good (same word as the serpent used) to eat. 2) It was a delight to the eyes (eyes would be opened?). 3) It was desirable to make one wise.

But, in the end, when she eats of the fruit only two of the three things that the serpent promised would happen. And, what the woman desired, well, it all came to nought. What happened when she ate of the fruit?

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (3:7) (ESV)

In the synopsis of what happened we see two connections back to the original comments of the serpent. 1) Their eyes were, indeed, opened. 2) They knew something that they did not know before–that they were naked. This was something that they didn’t know was wrong before, but felt it afterwards. This is brought out more with God’s question to them alter later, “Who told you that you were naked?” It had to come from somewhere external. So, in one sense, without getting into it too much, they learned good and evil. Two of the serpents promises came true.

Adam and Eve, however, were not made to be like God in one sense, nor were they able to achieve the wisdom they desired. The third comment from the serpent failed. The irony is that they were made more like the serpent rather than God. At least, if that is the way we understand the word play. You see, they were “naked” is a wordplay built off of the Hebrew word עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם, or for you English speakers, “eh room im” (“im” is the plural ending). “Er room,” and “a room” sound very similar. So, the author may be connecting the nakedness to the craftiness of the serpent in verse 1. Thus, the man and the woman in seeking to be more like God, through disobedience, became more like the serpent.

But, isn’t that the way all temptation goes? We think we will gain the thing we want but in the end we are left with less.

Parallell Temptations

Recently I’ve been intrigued by parallels and references in three passages of the Bible. The first, is Matthew 4:1-4, the story of Jesus being led into the wilderness and his first temptation. He quotes from Deuteronomy 8, which I mention here only as a reference. The temptation of Christ, however, mirrors the first temptation in Genesis 3:1-19. The Genesis passage is the first temptation of mankind. All three of these passages seem to connect in various parallel ways. What has become most interesting to me about the two temptations is their similarities or differences.

Similarities

  1. Temptation, obviously, takes place in both passages.
  2. Both passages involve food.
  3. Both have Satan (the serpent) as the tempter.

The differences however, bring a striking contrast.

Differences

  1. In the garden, everything they need for food is available. No mention of hunger. Jesus is hungry and apparently has no food. He is in need. Yet, the serpent is successful in the first temptation despite all its plenty. Satan is not successful with Jesus.
  2. The first temptation happened in paradise. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
  3. The serpent approaches the woman. Jesus enters the wilderness and finds Satan.
  4. Eve knew the word of God and ignored it (i.e. Do not eat of the tree in the midst of the garden). Jesus quoted it and lived by it.
  5. The sin brings about death. The obedience brings about life.

These parallels may not be profound or plentiful in number. However, they are interesting parallels, especially if you look at the full context of Deuteronomy 8. There, living by God’s commands is important–it brings life.

The moral of the story? Circumstances don’t make good excuses for disobeying the word of God. Jesus had more difficult circumstance when he was met with temptation. Yet, he did not fall into temptation. He obeyed the word of God and through it found life.