Disobedience to God: The Consequence for Those Who Disobey

Number 2.1       
July 2009      


Disobedience to God: The Consequence for Those Who Disobey

By Leah S. Goldman

At the End of Days, who can say whether God will save only the obedient? I hear what seem to be gunshots a short distance away from my apartment, and here I am thinking, have I been obedient to the Lord? Will I be one of the saved? The Holy Scriptures indicate that if we are obedient, then we shall receive goodness from the Lord, yet in today's society I find it easy to say that we are a civilization that is plagued by disobedience.  That being said, we have to thank God for the covenant that exists between humans and God.  Luckily, according to the covenant, humanity will never again exterminated, the ultimate consequence of disobedience.  So in this sense, what are the consequences of true disobedience if we are promised by God not to be annihilated? The mere threat of extinction is no longer a deterrent to committing acts of great disobedience or transgression.  What is the point of God's omniscience and omnipotence, if He will not exact the ultimate consequence of disobedience? Thus, how can we define consequence in the Bible and in our lives? What are the meanings of our small misfortunes and adversities? Is it merely an act of God that allows us to think, breathe, and be, so shouldn't we be obedient? Then I turn to Job.  Job was nothing but obedient to the Lord and in return, God accepts a bet from satan and toys with Job and his obedience.  The Lord destroyed all that belonged to and all who loved Job. Is it not that our blind obedience is a curse instead of a blessing to be coveted?

In obeying the Lord, there are often times when we stray from what we know is morally just, although we are unsure of what the consequence will be, if any, and thus feel little remorse for our improper actions.  In disobeying the Lord, for those that are fearful of His power and ability, it is possible that God can erase your name from The Book of Life, and in return cause your soul to be lost, or discontinued, for eternity.  This is a great punishment.  Although it seems that one would hardly want to participate in such worldly arrogance knowing the adverse outcome that would surely ensue, the Holy Scripture is filled with rampant transgressions.  Disobedience manifests itself in two different ways in the Holy Scripture, and the consequences for these forms of disobedience differ in response and extent due to God's covenant with Noah.  In order to be disobedient, one can either defy the innate nature of human obedience and knowledge of God's omnipotence, or one can outwardly disregard God's Decalogue.  Without the threat of the ultimate punishment, however, are humans more likely to take liberties, unafraid of the consequences?

However, disobedience, whatever the consequences, is still an act against God and His commandments, and we will later see that disobedience goes so far as to reach the inner depths of one's soul as well.  Defiance due to temptation goes hand in hand with rejecting God and His laws too.  I propose that disobedience comes in two forms, which are integral to the understanding of God and His will.  I will enumerate these two transgressions in just a moment; however, I am obliged to say that the story of Adam and Eve, or "the Fall of Man," correlates perfectly with my theory of disobedience.  My presupposition is that God can be disobeyed while simultaneously be disobeying Himself and that if and when God violates His own laws, it is understood that His creations will transgress in effect as well due to the divine interconnection of God and humanity established during creation.

In order to talk about disobedience in the text, we must first describe the manner in which one might disobey.  One kind of disobedience is the denial of the innate obedience each human posses as given by God during creation. Another kind of insubordination is the rejection of God's Decalogue, or ten commandments that can be evoked by temptation, and Satan who fashions this temptation.  However, both of these types of disobedience revolve around defying God or following Satan.  Let us speak then of Satan, whose name in the Old Testament simply means "the adversary," someone who tricks mankind into committing sins.  His purpose is to prey on human weaknesses  and facilitate our downfall.  Satan does not indicate an opposing force to God, because God's power is unparalleled; rather, he is a prosecutor, a trickster who can come in many forms, such as a serpent, and who usually proposes an element of temptation.  For example, in the story of Adam and Eve, the serpent comes to Eve as an instigator for the downfall of humankind.  The serpent inquires into Eve's knowledge about the Garden of Eden and tempts her to eat of the forbidden fruit, fruit that was forbidden by God.  Thus, in order to be disobedient, one must either submit to temptation or commit acts against the commandments of the Lord.  In several cases of the biblical text, temptation becomes an overwhelming power that man acquiesces to and that evokes anger in the Lord, who thereafter punishes the transgressors.  In the story of Adam and Eve, temptation is a prevalent theme, which results in devastating consequences.  These creatures and temptations are symbolic of Satan and display the means by which humans can submit to their weaknesses and disobey the Lord.  Another example of Satan in the text would be in the story of Job, where Satan is also a menacing force.  One can see in Job that Satan challenges the Lord about Job's obedience and admiration as he undermines at creation's loyalty to God (Job 9).  But perhaps, since the Covenant with Noah was already enacted and God promised not to annihilate all of creation, He reasoned that instead of punishing all of creation for being sinful, He would test the faith of one of the most pious remaining men in order to use him as a martyr of sorts.  By testing and unjustly punishing the most pious of men, God would be able to retaliate against the Covenant that He made with Noah.  In this situation, God is challenging the Devil.  Perhaps God asks Satan to find his most loyal servant, Job — "have you considered my servant Job?" — as if God has previously suggested to Satan that Job was the most obedient of all and that his character would not let him stray.  If Job did stray, however, this would prove to God that he had done Himself a great injustice by trusting people to remain obedient. This is one insight into the mind of Satan and how it operates within the text.

In reading the Holy Scriptures, there are times when one might stumble upon a gap, or a place in the text that does not seem to fit the rest of the story or is somehow unclear.  These gaps lend themselves to different interpretations by theologians and philosophers who read the text in disparate ways due to their differing backgrounds, intellects, or insights. So to commence reading the text, one must read it in the "plain sense," or in the Hebrew, the peshat.  This means that one must simply read the text and absorb the words at face value, in that the words mean what they say.  After reading the text in the plain sense, one might be able to point out some gaps in the text, or places where the text seems unclear, and then begin to construct interpretations of why and what the text is actually saying at these fissures.  To start exploring the depths of Genesis 3, or the Fall of Man, we will begin with the text itself, in the peshat:

The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, yet they felt no shame.  Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, "Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" The woman replied to say: "We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden.  It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: 'You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die'." And the serpent said to the woman, "You are not going to die, but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad." When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 2:25-3:7)

In the plain sense, the text reads as follows: man and woman are naked and feel unashamed in the garden, the serpent comes and asks the woman to clarify what God had asked her to do, the woman responds that she must not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden or she will die, the serpent tells her it is a hoax, the woman decides to eat the fruit, the man also eats the fruit, and then they both think that they are naked and search for clothing.  The first gap, or area of confusion, that we find while reading the plain text is that we have never seen God and woman discuss the trees in the garden.  One interpretation of this gap could be that man and woman had an innate understanding with God as to how to obey him due to the fact that they were created in God's image: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Thus, the two humans have a part of God's knowledge instilled within their minds and this would help to distinguish between what the humans could and could not do in the Garden of Eden.  This indicates that divine knowledge could be implicit within one's spirit and soul.  Perhaps God bestowed the first commandment upon Eve and since this mandate was innate within her being, the serpent's questioning and then the subsequent answering of those questions by the woman indicate some recognition and acknowledgement of these laws.  Because Eve realizes that she was not to eat of the fruit, it seems to follow that she had prior knowledge about the trees as seen in Genesis 3:1-3:4:

He said to the woman, "Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" The woman replied to say: "We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden.  It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: 'You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die'."

The serpent tells the woman that she will not die, however, God will be upset because the humans would then possess an equivalent knowledge to that of God.  But could it also not be that man and woman already possessed that knowledge and that the serpent was simply meant to test their obedience? The serpent is challenging woman's obedience to the Lord.  It seems strange that the serpent would know this about the trees because it appears to be privileged information, if the idea concerning the divine image and implicit knowledge is true.  Is it possible that the serpent was like Satan in the story of Job and that God was testing the strength and obedience of the first humans? Perhaps humanity had implicit understanding of God's knowledge and already possessed intelligence nearly parallel to God's.  We can see this thought evolve when woman thinks about the tree. Another way to understand Eve's implicit knowledge and its parallel to God's is to consider that when she thinks about the tree, she sees that it "was good for eating" (Genesis 3:6) just as God saw that creation "was good" or "was very good": "God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:4). Discerning between good and not good is such a prevalent part of creation, so humanity is enacting parts of creation and acting analogously to God.

However, I find another interesting point within the syntax of the woman's speech.  Through woman, we know that God somehow communicated to her: "you shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die" (Genesis 3:3). This language seems to be quite paternal and precautionary, like a sign of warning, as opposed to an absolute commandment or validation of death.  The word "lest" (meaning "for fear that") is a conjunction that links two clauses, the second of which, within the context of the sentence, requires caution.  By using this conjunction, God seems more like a concerned parent admonishing His daughter so that He will not have to banish her. God seems to be saying, do not eat the fruit, for I am afraid that if you do, I will have to expel you from the holiest and most perfect place.  It seems that expulsion is the equivalent of death, in that once the humans leave the Garden of Eden, their perfection ceases, and they may no longer dwell in the presence of God.  "Lest" is a test, a specific word that God had chosen, which indicates that if woman touches the fruit, she will no longer be able to walk with God.  Yet the woman made her choice regardless of the consequences. Once man and woman gorged themselves with the "forbidden fruit," they became aware of their rebellious choices only after God responds angrily:

The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, "Where are you? He replied, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid." Then He asked, "Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?" The man said, "The woman You put at my side — she gave me of the tree, and I ate." And the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done!" The woman replied, "The serpent duped me, and I ate...." So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:9-3:13, Genesis 3:23)

God also declared specific punishments for each human.  The woman would have "pangs in childbearing" (Genesis 3:16) and would live under the dominion of her husband.  The man would have to work the earth.  Man and woman were then banished from the Garden of Eden.  From God's response, they learned what it meant to obey and what it meant to disobey, and clearly, they had disobeyed.

            Another important note is that perhaps God's inner workings are woven with shades of noncompliance.  I offer this conjecture because God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26), yet he does not grant humanity unconditional immortality, which would be in his likeness.  Perhaps God is disobeying Himself, because He has opposed His own words with His actions (in expelling Adam and Eve and sentencing them to death).  It seems as if God first asks Himself permission to create humans like Himself, and then decides that they should rule the earth: "they shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth" (Genesis 1:26). In doing so, he indicates that humans shall rule the earth, not the Garden of Eden.  God knew that humanity would disobey at some point and that they were not meant for the perfection of the garden.  He created humans to be disobedient creatures because He could not help it; for they were after His likeness and He had also disobeyed Himself in sentencing them.

God becomes frustrated with the woman because she not only disobeys the external understandings of the commandments, but alsothe inherent laws that have been cultivated within her spirit and nature.  By disregarding God's spoken commands, she is also disobeying the nature of creation.  Creation was formed through speech, God's speech, and thus disobeying speech is a rejection of creation.  God prohibited them from eating of the tree in the center of the Eden, but He did allow them to eat of all the other trees. However, God later posits that there is another tree, a tree of life, which He also does not want them to eat.  Does this not indicate that there were two trees from which the humans should not eat? And if so, were man and woman set up to fail, set up to be banished from the garden? God had no purpose for them to be in the garden if he did not want them to be in His likeness in totality and in immortality (the death sentence), and thus they would have ultimately been forced to leave the garden anyway.

Therefore, God created humans to disobey. Humanity was created in the image of God and was created to disobey due to their predisposition for disobedience, modeled after God's own disobedience.  The serpent challenged the woman's loyalty and obedience by introducing the temptation to which she succumbs. The woman then not only violates God's commandment but, in doing so, rejects His speech (his mode of expression, his mode of rendering creation) and rejects her inherent knowledge of God's law. However, her disobedience, as we have learned, is perhaps only a reflection of God's own ways.

God has produced an interesting situation here.  He created humans in His own divine image, which is a defining characteristic of God.  In doing so, He disobeyed Himself and His own orders to create humans in His likeness.  Could it be that God denied Himself and His own commandments and in denying Himself gave creation the capacity to deny Him too? Will these acts of disobedience beget a vicious cycle that will last for all eternity?

Disobeying God, even if it is innate within mankind, will still lead to consequence and adversity.  However, if one disobeys God's laws and, having been rendered in His likeness, succumbs to temptation, then one denies the God in himself. We have learned from the Bible what consequences await those who contravene. However, if God also disobeys, then what consequences await Him?