Discussing Torah matters because the Torah matters

Showdown in the Wilderness

Coiled around a high branch in the center of the Garden, the snake studies the man and his wife closely, their heat signature held in the narrow slits of his black eyes. He is absolutely still but for a forked tongue that slips in and out of his mouth, each pass delivering to him the scent of his unsuspecting prey. His prey are this man and his wife, but he hungers specifically for their holiness, for in their holiness is the likeness of God.

This snake is unlike any other creature in the Garden because this snake is no animal at all, but the enemy himself in the form of his true essence. His essence is revealed because this is the Garden of Eden––a zone wherein physical reality perfectly articulates the spiritual nature of every being. In this place, he has no choice but to manifest as a venomous, cold-blooded cobra. 

From what heights he has fallen! The enemy was once ordained to be a guardian of heaven, the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. He was adorned with precious stones on the day he was created. He was blameless in his ways until “wickedness was found in him.” His heart became proud on account of his beauty. Self-indulgence corrupted his wisdom. Intoxicated with pride, the mantra of his heart so became:
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”

He recognizes that the created world is the sole avenue by which he can achieve his aims. But God has given the dominion of the world to man (Genesis 1:26). The snake cannot seize it; he can merely receive it if man gives himself over to the enemy’s will. The snake is betting that man is gullible enough to do so. As he beholds this man and his wife on their first full day of existence––they are giggling and splashing in a shallow riverbed––more and more he likes his odds.

As the Sabbath Day goes on, he watches from a distance and takes notes. He sees that the man and his wife are invited to eat freely from any tree they choose, and there are miles upon miles of fruitful trees from which to eat. The variety of options exemplify the diversity of choice within God’s blessing. So long as they eat from the buffet that God has prepared for them, they will feast forever in true freedom, exercising their free-will every day without end.

There is one prohibition: ha’etz ha’da’at tov v’ra––the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree is expressly off-limits. God warned Adam in no uncertain terms: “...you must not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The tree itself (though off-limits) is still a good tree. After all, it was seeded on Day 3 of creation, and at the end of Day 3, God looked at everything He had made and called it good. The forbidden tree contributes a special dynamic to the Garden. It is like the surprising radical that makes the whole free-will equation work. Without this variable, humanity is a bride locked inside her husband’s castle. Without this variable she cannot leave, and if she is not allowed to leave, the framework of genuine love and relationship cannot exist. It’s the having the freedom to leave––coupled with the bride’s choosing to stay––that expresses commitment on her part, and the mutual trust of both parties. As it’s been said: to have the freedom to say yes, one must have the freedom to say no. 

But to say no to the source of life is problematic. To say no to God––that is, to violate His commandment––is to stray from Life. It is to sin and to accept the slavery associated with the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Thus, the freedom to eat from the Tree of Knowledge is the freedom to trade away freedom. It’s the end of freedom, as it were. So God prohibits the tree because he wants the very best for the man and his wife. He forbids it so as to protect their freedom, and yet He includes it as part of their freedom. 

What’s even more, God plants the Tree of Knowledge boldly in the center of the Garden! He doesn’t set it in the far corner; He doesn’t hide it behind some boulder. It’s not the hard-to-find shrub of Knowledge of Good and Evil. No, it’s the distinguished Tree of Knowledge standing counter to the Tree of Life, with all other trees placed on their periphery. It’s God’s declaring to man: if you want to leave, you have the right to do so. If you choose to venture beyond My presets, by all means have it your way. I’m not afraid to leave the door unlocked. You are my Beloved, and your partnership with Me with this ministry is a choice that you must make for yourself every single day. 

The Tree of Knowledge represents opportunity to the serpent. Whereas God views it as man’s way out, the enemy views it as his own way in. So the snake stations himself among its branches. He trains his eyes on the man and his wife from his vantage point atop the tree. As he watches them, he beholds the image and likeness of God, a sight which makes him envious, yes, but hungry as well. He knows, though, that now is not the right time to strike. He will wait until Shabbat ends. 

Currently there is no sin and death in the world. Man, who holds the key to the world, has not opened the door to such darkness, so sin and death have not crossed the threshold. Sin and death do exist, though. For within the enemy––this creature from heaven––already there is sin; already there is separation from God; already there is the authorship of evil. So long as these stay contained within the enemy, their effects will never do any harm to man. Sin and death will remain like a venom unreleased, a toxic agent never activated in the world. 

To be clear: the enemy’s fate is already bound to sin and death. No longer is he the seal of perfection; no longer is he blameless in heavenly splendor. Now he manifests as a serpent because that form best articulates his fallen essence. Sin and death being in him, he will use what he has and make the most of it. He will weaponize death to his advantage, and he will utilize his mouth to pass the toxin. 

The serpent has but one original idea: the idea that words can differ from intention. The idea that the outside doesn’t have to match the inside. His intention being what it is––to feed on man’s holiness, to consume God’s image and likeness, to best God and His Beloved in their collective endeavor, to assume dominion over the world, to ascend to the heavens and be like the Most High––he will use his words to convey a different message. He will sell a different premise: he’s here for man’s sake. He’s speaking up in their interest. Being so considerate, he will reveal what God has been keeping from them. That is, that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge offers not death but freedom! It’s the pathway to enlightenment, knowing good and evil. It’s the chance to be like God, and they are created to be like God, right?

The snake slithers downward at nightfall. His arms and legs (source) help his long body weave between the branches. His tongue goes in and out, its fork foreboding a split which his tongue will soon inspire. He settles into a strategic position upon the tree’s lowest branch. He will wait here until morning. He is excited. He does not know what the future holds but with such certainty he thinks, This is going to be too easy...

The galaxies fade as morning dawns in the Garden of Eden. A mist goes up from the ground to water the vegetation. The man and his wife awaken to a cacophony of sound cascading from the lush greenery encircling them. What’s for breakfast? Some fruit from the Tree of Life. When they bite into it, they feel a surge of energy, a pulse of eternity, entering them. Having been created in the image of God, they were made to be immortal, and via the Tree of Life, they connect to the everlasting. Without death, without sin, they are naked but they feel no shame. 

They are eager to begin their ministry in the Garden. They are eager to go and walk through the Garden in every direction, knowing that wherever they set their feet, that land will be theirs. But just as the two of them get going, a whisper from the mist catches their attention. 

The serpent speaks. He targets the woman because, if his calculations are correct, she is the glory of man (as 1 Corinthians 1:13 will confirm). If he can ruin her––the final crescendo of God’s creation––then the man who is enamored with her will follow suit. Besides that, the enemy has a sweet tooth, and there is something especially delectable about her holiness.

The serpent’s first words to her––his first recorded words in history––are off-key. 

“Aph kiy-amar elohim lotokh’lu miKol etz ha’gan?” That is, “Has God indeed said you shall not eat of every tree of the Garden?

Aph kiy...” he begins, the words that launch the serpent’s attack. These Hebrew words are phonetically identical to “off-key” in English. It’s a linguistic coincidence but nevertheless instructive because everything the enemy says is a measure off-key.

To elaborate, when an instrument––a piano, for instance––is played by itself, it may sound perfectly in tune when actually it is off-key. This is because the instrument is tuned to itself, meaning each string inside the piano is tuned relative to the other strings inside the same piano. Therefore our ear is betrayed into thinking it is properly tuned. The truth will be heard, though, when that piano is played alongside an orchestra performing at concert pitch. Concert pitch is the standard pitch to which all musical instruments are tuned for a performance. It is the universal frequency at which all instruments are supposed to play. As other instruments tuned to concert pitch begin to play, that piano––which once sounded so lovely––will sound painfully out of place with the orchestra.

And so it is with the serpent’s words. If heard in isolation, they may sound in tune with truth. But when brought before the absolute truth of God’s Word, the disharmony is abruptly obvious. 

Deviating from this standard, the serpent’s opening statement makes it way to the woman. It has its appeal; it pulls her in. And after hearing her first response, the enemy knows he’s already got her.

The woman says, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Eve misquotes God. This is not what God had said. Prior to Eve’s creation, God had said to Adam, “...of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The commandment mentions nothing about touching the tree. So where does Eve get this extra information from? 

She got it from Adam when Adam passed it down to her! This bit about making no contact with the tree was Adam’s addition to God’s Word. Adam, with good intentions, had “built a fence around the Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1) so as to guard the law from being trespassed. But the addition––when not understood properly––confuses tradition with commandment. To violate a tradition of man is not to sin; to violate a commandment of God is to sin! But when a tradition of man is held equal to a commandment of God, the lines blur, and in that confusion the enemy finds a foothold. The serpent now knows that all he has to do is get her to touch the fruit, and in that “sinful” moment, she will find that nothing bad happens. She will then come to doubt the commandment altogether, and she will take a bite.

The serpent smiles inwardly. “You will not certainly die,” he replies. His reptile body tightens around the bottom branch that props him up. “For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

You’re missing out is the thrust of his temptation, the unspoken hook of his sales pitch. And having made his final statement, he stops selling. He knows that, at this point, whoever speaks first loses. Any experienced salesman knows to keep quiet after delivering the close. So he holds his tongue, stays confident, and watches the woman’s eyes as curiosity calls them upward. Halfway up, the tree fades away into the mist, giving it the appearance of reaching into the heavens. It’s perfect; the product sells itself! The snake lets the product take the lead and do the talking.  

Everything he told her is factual. Upon eating the fruit, her eyes will indeed be opened to knowing good and evil. And, as he said, she will not die! At least in a certain sense, because she will go on living for hundreds of years after the fruit is consumed. It goes to show that the words of the salesman serpent are factually accurate, in and of themselves. This is a telling insight. It is why his pitch is so often convincing. He laces his lies with facts. But, as is commonly the case, facts can be misleading and off-key. Facts can be untruthful.

In truth, the forbidden fruit will veer Eve away from Life. The process of death will begin this very day. Her eyes will in fact be opened to knowing good and evil, but in truth she will go blind to the spiritual realm, to the very light which emanates from her body. Her entire perception of the world will itself become off-key to the heavenly reality she has heretofore known in the Garden. Reality will bifurcate. A split will occur between reality as God intended it versus reality as she experiences it. In truth, her eyes will be more shut than opened, and she will surely die. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20. Gazing up at the tree right now, she isn’t considering the downside anymore. 

The woman ascertains that the fruit of the tree is “good for food.” And it’s more than edible but delicious––“pleasing to the eye.” And it’s more than enticing but edifying––“desirable to make one wise.” She looks over at her husband who is with her––he’s been listening the whole time––and he says nothing. He makes no protest. He offers no counter-argument. Here occurs the man’s failure: a relinquishing of delegated authority, a failing to speak truth to deception. The man’s failure will give way to mankind’s first sin. 

Her attention returns to the tree. Reaching upward, she clutches a piece of fruit and tears it from the branch. Ah ha! The serpent here has his victory moment. It is akin to a customer taking up the pen to sign the order. It’s over. It’s done. Someone pop the Champagne! Cradling the fruit in her hand, she sees that nothing happens. She thinks she’s already transgressed the commandment, yet she observes no change, no consequence. She now doubts the commandment altogether. Without any reluctance, she pulls it in and takes a bite. 

She is greeted with a momentary euphoria, sin’s pay-off, a temporary high. But she doesn’t have time to describe it, for within a moment, the Garden adheres to the truth of the matter. Her light goes out. The incandescence of her being powers down, level after level, a nauseating free fall, a generator gassing out. Startled, she turns and squints into the light of her husband as he stares back at her in disbelief. Though she is right beside him, suddenly they are worlds apart. 

Crossing the chasm from her world to his, she holds out the fruit and offers it to him. The sin is plated with increasing appeal: from a tree’s indiscriminate branch to a wife’s open palm. It is harder to resist...

But “Adam is not deceived. . .” (1 Timothy 2:14).

The man is not deceived because the truth has been revealed. The man knows exactly what will happen if he eats the fruit, for he just saw Eve undergo a wilting transformation. He is now faced with a difficult decision: he either refuses the fruit (which separates him from his wife) or he accepts the fruit because it’s not a paradise if she is absent from it.

The man takes and eats the fruit, and crash lands on the other side. 

With his joining her, the eyes of both of them are now opened. First comes shame as they scrutinize one another, their connection diminished, their light extinguished, their flesh in full view. But shame is pushed aside by fear when they turn and behold the enemy for the first time. With new awareness, they perceive an evil so tangible and sinister that they flee from it (like Moses will in Exodus 4:3). They don’t stop running until they are deep in the jungle of Eden. Little do they realize, evil and its inclination goes with them. 

As for the serpent himself, he doesn’t even begin to chase them. He is far too full for that! Having consumed their holiness as his main dish, their fear as his dessert, he is bloated and swollen beyond previous size. So much to digest! For now, he meanders back up the Tree of Knowledge, its top well above the fog line. Once there he takes in the view, a glutton king surveying his newly-acquired territory while the sun is quietly coming up behind him. 

*     *     *

The man arises from the water of the Jordan. The Spirit of God descends like Noah’s final dove and lands, finally, upon him. The people nearby are astonished when a voice from above bellows, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The man upon whom the Spirit now rests is Jesus. He is the Son of God, the last Adam (Luke 3:38, 1 Corinthians 15:45). He is about to begin his ministry on earth. But before he begins, he knows what he has to do.  

Venturing out like a trapper, Jesus disappears into the wilderness, alone. He makes himself the bait. He lets himself become very weak, fasting for 40 consecutive days. He senses the serpent watching him from a distance, monitoring his strength as it dwindles week after week. 20 days go by. 30 days go by. By Day 40, Jesus is very near the limit of human capacity, 35 pounds lighter than when he began (source). Having gone 40 days without food, Jesus can hardly stand up. He slips in and out of consciousness. The line between what is and what isn’t blurs. The enemy sees an edge and deems the time is right. In full strength the snake emerges from hiding and strikes.

Having been loosed from the Garden, the enemy has gained a new power, an ability to manipulate his appearance, the way in which he is perceived. When the outside doesn’t reflect the inside––when something isn’t what it seems––it makes a mockery of God’s design. By manipulating his appearance, the enemy mocks God’s design and defies nature’s order. He  therefore does it constantly, oftentimes prowling around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). Nevertheless, his essence does not change even if his masks frequently do. Once a serpent, still a serpent.

The enemy likes to mock what is holy and good. So, out here in the wilderness, the tempter approaches Jesus not as a snake but as someone Jesus already knows and trusts: a rabbi from his youth, a friend of Joseph’s, an old man with bushy eyebrows and a warm smile. When Jesus notices the rabbi approaching, he isn’t sure if he is seeing another memory come to life or if, perhaps, the enemy has finally arrived.

The old, familiar rabbi sits down across from Jesus. With Jesus being so drawn and emaciated, a look of concern comes over the rabbi’s face. He speaks up for Jesus’ sake. He says, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus look! These stones are good for food. It’s a fact that, if you’re the Son of God, you can turn these rocks into bread! So why are you doing this to yourself, my son? 

Tuning his thoughts to concert pitch, Jesus responds with a verse from Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:3): “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” 

The rabbi looks away, disgusted. Did he not wait not long enough? Still, he knows what Jesus wants even more than food. Jesus wants his people to recognize the truth. Knowing this, and seeing Jesus in his current state, the enemy remains seated. The advantage is not lost. Not a word is said for a long while, the two of them in total quiet except for an ever-present howl of wind ripping between the arid mountains. Jesus, slumped against a large stone, eventually lays his head back. He struggles to stay coherent and awake, but his mind is adrift. His eyelids are heavy. His focus is in and out. The rabbi’s bushy eyebrows are the last thing he sees before everything fades to black.

His eyes shoot open. Abruptly alert, Jesus finds himself in the middle of Jerusalem! He is perched high above a crowd of hundreds of people. He is peering down at them from the pinnacle of the Temple. It is from this position that the priest would regularly watch and wait for dawn, eager to give the signal that would commence the Temple services, the morning sacrifice set to occur exactly at sunrise. This position at the pinnacle of the Temple is a place of anticipation, a place of new beginnings. Jesus knows this intuitively as he beholds the setting that surrounds him.

Now there is standing beside him a man dressed in the holy garments of a Levitical priest. The priest stretches his hand out as if to invite Jesus to step forward. He says, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

If, in fact, you are the Son of God, show your people! Show them who you are in terms they would understand! They are expecting a Messiah, after all. Malachi 3:1 foretells of His coming here, and here you are! At a station of anticipation and new beginnings. Step forth and be carried down by angels; be proclaimed Messiah! It’s perfect; it’s poetic; it’s pleasing. Jesus, it’s what you want. Don’t miss this opportunity. Shortcuts still get you to the destination. 

The enemy quotes Scripture to bolster the temptation. The passage he references is from Psalm 91, a well known Messianic psalm. Verses 11, 12, & 14 read this way:

For [the Lord] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

The referenced passage is missing a verse, though. No attention is paid to verse 13. Why is verse 13 neglected? Because Psalm 91:13 reads, “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” 

The priest’s redaction is not missed by Jesus. Calling up Deuteronomy 6:16 as a response, Jesus turns to the enemy and, looking him right in the eyes, says, “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God on trial.’” 

The priest draws his shoulder back, his hand poised to slap Jesus across the face. It comes in quickly and Jesus winces, bracing for impact. Instead, the man’s hand swipes the whole scene into oblivion. Jesus is hit not by a hand but by a blast of cold wind that ices his sun-burned face. 

He has been transported to the summit of a colossal mountain, its flanks so steep and rigid that a man could not climb them. He shares the summit with someone else, the sight of whom would bring an lesser man to his knees. In front of Jesus, buttressed by mighty wings on the right and the left, adorned with precious stones of every color, towers a magnificent archangel whose splendor and radiance transcend that which the earth can produce. This goliath angel, tall and striking, holds a pose that accentuates his most stunning and wonderful features. When he looks down his nose at Jesus, he does so with surprise, for the man seems unimpressed. 

The angel directs Jesus’ attention to the edge of the mountaintop. Jesus accepts the direction and together they walk to the edge. It is here that Jesus’ breath is taken away, for beyond the dizzying drop-off––far, far below––is a scene so captivating that it is difficult to describe.

Draped over the landscape is history distilled into a single moment. All the kingdoms of earth are represented. Stretching as far as the eye can see, they light up the sky. Each kingdom portrayed in its highest grandeur: Greece at its greatest; Rome in its prime; Persia at its best; China in its fullness; Britain at its zenith; the United States with its towering skyscrapers; first century Israel with His beloved Jerusalem. It’s all there: past, present, and future.

Cast in the glow of this glorious summation of world history, the angel lets Jesus take it in. The angel pretends to look too, but he has quite frankly grown accustomed to this view. Besides, the kingdom he covets is not included in this panorama. The kingdom he covets remains safeguarded within the thin frame of the man standing next to him. This kingdom the angel eyes secretly. 

He pivots toward Jesus, but Jesus continues to survey the landscape with thoughts on the billions and billions of people below. The angel sees city light reflecting against Jesus’ eyes. He is reminded of the way the light reflected in Eve’s eyes when she beheld the beauty of the Tree of Knowledge. The enemy smiles and speaks just above a whisper. “All these things I will give You,” he says, adding, “if You fall down and worship me.”

This is a legitimate temptation. Jesus knows that the kingdoms of the earth are the enemy’s to give. The enemy has the authority to offer them. He acquired such power when man handed it over to him. The exchange occurred in the Garden...

God gave man dominion over all living creatures, and He commanded man to subdue the earth––to govern it (Genesis 1:28). Man’s authority was thereby established, his ruling over the earth and over all living creatures. But, when man ate the forbidden fruit, he succumbed to the will of the enemy. What occurred, then, was a trade off: the enemy gave what he had to man (the feeling of being like God) and man gave what he had to the enemy (control of the whole world). So came the dominion which the enemy––the “prince of this world” (John 14:30)––now presents to Jesus, legitimately. 

The enemy wants to make another trade. The enemy will give Jesus control of the whole world if Jesus will submit and worship him in return. If Jesus bows down and worships him, the enemy effectively becomes the Most High, and thereby achieves his greatest desire and satisfies the mantra of his heart! The enemy is trading up: from feeling like God to being God! It’s an astounding progression if he can pull it off. But of course, the enemy holds his cards close to his chest. He doesn’t show his desperation.

“All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me,” the angel says to Jesus. Underneath his calm demeanor, the enemy screams: “Jesus, no one will notice! It’s just you and me out here! I’m offering you the deal of a thousand lifetimes! The course of the world––up for sale! You can have it; you can rule it as you see fit! It’s yours, if you’ll simply do the smallest action in this private place. Your whole body is aching to lay down anyway. Come on, isn’t my offer desirable?”

No terrorism. No holocaust. No inquisition. No crucifixion. Jesus shuts his eyes and the world’s brilliance ceases to reach to his pupils. When his eyelids pull back, his eyes are illuminated from the inside, by the light of God’s Word. Jesus turns to the angel of light and answers with a verse from Deuteronomy (8:3). “It is written,” he says, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” 

The angel’s countenance falls through his feet and tumbles down the mountainside. He knows there’s nowhere left to go; he’s heightened the temptations as high as he can take them. And still, despite the odds, Jesus––this man of God––has prevailed. 

There is a sudden whirl and Jesus lowers his head to avoid being disoriented. When he raises it up, he finds himself slumped against a rock on the desert floor. The sun is going down; the stars are coming out. Across from him is a man with the eyes of a serpent. The man is staring back at Jesus, motionless and crouching down. His expression is solemn and intense. No words are spoken. Jesus coughs once, twice, and the man is gone. 

Jesus, now left to the birds and the wild animals, is in a dangerous situation. His weakened body is all but paralyzed; his mind is unsteady and spent. He is starving and bordering death. If God doesn’t rescue him somehow, he will die right here in this vast and unforgiving wilderness. He is not demanding  an angelic dispatch, nor expecting it, but their appearance at his remote location is more than welcomed. They come and attend to him (Matthew 4:11), pulling him back from the brink of death.

With the enemy’s departure, the showdown between the best of man and the worst of heaven would seem to be over. But the curtains have not yet closed. A cryptic verse from Luke 4:13 states, “...when the devil had finished every temptation, he left Jesus until an opportune time.” This opportune time will not arrive until later, when Jesus (again delirious, again very near death) hangs on the cross. The enemy, then speaking through those in the crowd, calls out, “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” (Matthew 27:40). 

Recollect the temptations: “If you are the Son of God...” “If you are the Son of God...” and now: “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” This is the fourth great temptation, the opportune time that the snake has been waiting for. But this time, Jesus’ response is quite different than before. 

In the wilderness, Jesus relied on the Torah to do battle. There are five books in the Torah he could have chosen from, but a single book––Deuteronomy––was enough to put down the enemy. 

In another great showdown, David went against Goliath at the end of 40 days. David “chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine . . . David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground” (1 Samuel 17:4049).

David relied on these stones to do battle with Goliath. There were five stones in his bag he could have chosen from, but a single stone was enough to put down the enemy.

But there again, the showdown wasn’t over yet. After dropping him with a single stone, David stood over Goliath and drew Goliath’s sword out of its sheath. Using Goliath’s own weapon against him, David cut off Goliath’s head. 

In like manner, Jesus now responds. Hanging on the cross, he looks down at the enemy. Before this, he had struck down the enemy with a single book, but now Jesus will use something else to finalize his victory. Death is drawn up into his hands. Using the enemy’s own weapon against him, Jesus dies on the cross––and with that death, he crushes the serpent’s head. 

*    *     *

Snakes are indeterminate growers. This means they never stop growing (source). And so it goes that, after thousands and thousands of years, the ancient serpent tears into the storyline at the end of time not as a snake but as a formidable reptile-dragon (Revelation 20:1-2).

The dragon has been thrown down from Heaven by angels empowered by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony of the saints (12:11). Upon hearing the testimony of his missionaries, Jesus had said, “I saw Satan fall from Heaven like lightning...” (Luke 10:18). It is known that lightning is seen before the thunderclap is heard. A principle: there is a moment’s delay between cause and effect. And so, as his missionaries go out into the world––healing wounds and casting out demons, pronouncing the kingdom of God––Jesus witnesses the silent lightning-flash. But it’s only after a measurable delay that the world experiences the rumble of the thunder rolling across the sky. The enemy was crushed at the cross, yes, but now, at the end of time, the crashing reverberation of this reality has finally reached everyone’s senses!

In one last-ditch power grab, the enemy assembles kings from the east, west, north and south. Joining as one army in numbers like the sand on the seashore, they march across the breadth of the earth, closing in like a noose on God’s beloved city, Jerusalem. But Jesus, now seated at the right hand of God, is in a very different place than he was when he was alone and staving in the wilderness. Speaking as the king of kings and lord of lords, He gives the order.

Fire comes down from heaven. It devours the enemy’s entire army (Revelation 20:9). Just as fire descended from heaven to lick up the water around Elijah’s sacrifice, fire descends to consume the most impressive army the world has ever seen (20:9). The enemy is then seized and led like a criminal to the lake of fire. Now the lake of fire is not separation from God, but rather an uncensored experience of God and His holiness. Even death and hell will succumb to the experience (Revelation 20:14)! 

This is the dragon’s final moment. That ancient serpent––this one who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, this one who turned the world into a desert and destroyed its cities, this one who refused to let the captives return to their homes––is unapologetic and angry, without any last words to leave with his victims. Just before he is cast into the fiery lake, he glances back at Jesus upon the Throne. The two of them lock eyes one more time. Without speaking, Jesus passes a message to the serpent that goes something like: “I know you sought to feed on man’s holiness, so here, try Mine.” 

And with that, the enemy is never seen again.

The Woman at the Well

“I want to tell you about my favorite moment in the Bible,” says the curly-haired professor, all of 80 years old. He is seated on a wooden stool like usual, facing 150 college students in what is the largest lecture hall on campus. The ceiling is high; the room is full; the enormous blackboard behind him is blank. There is, however, a single scribble that reads John 4: The Woman at the Well. Looking up through his bifocals, he clears his throat and begins the story. 

“She is alone on purpose,” he says, clasping his hands together, a wedding ring still on his finger.

.     .     .

The woman is alone on purpose. 

She walks at a time when her risk of encountering anyone else is at its lowest. Her destination––Shechem’s ancient well––waits for her just beyond the edge of the village. She is relieved to see no one there.

The well is called Jacob’s Well. Jacob sunk the well when he camped in front of the city (Genesis 33:18-20) some 1900 years earlier. Hewn out of solid rock, the well begins with a narrow opening before expanding into a shaft nearly eight feet in diameter. It plunges more than a hundred feet beneath the surface to tap into the area’s water table. The effort required to excavate such a well––especially in an area that otherwise abounds in natural springs (source)––is telling. Jacob certainly wished to be independent of his neighbors. An extended, self-sufficient stay would seem to have been on Jacob’s mind before his plans changed unexpectedly. What occurred was an ordeal so terrible that all prospects of a peaceful residence were dashed to pieces. He departed from Shechem; he never dared to return. But his well, of course, had to stay behind. It remains bound to this place, unable to leave. And the woman can relate. 

She hoists cold water from the well and pours it into her unadorned clay vessel. This vessel she carries to and from the well every single day. No matter how many times the jar is filled, it always seems to rediscover its emptiness. After five marriages, she would say the same for herself. Into each marriage she went seeking fullness and fulfillment, but again and again she found herself just as empty as before. Defeated, she now lives with a man out of wedlock. The man appears to have no intention of marrying her, but that is okay. She doesn’t ask him about the future and he doesn’t ask her about the past. 

The woman finishes her task at the well. Before she turns back to the village, the woman raises her gaze toward the southwest. Mount Gerizim is there, its base a half-mile away, its summit 1000 feet above that. The whole of it is hallowed ground to her people, the Samaritans, given its sacred nature and storied history. She, however, cherishes it mostly because it reminds her of her father, the way he spoke of it when she was a little girl. “Our Messiah is coming,” he would even say, the mountain caught up in his eyes. “He will set things straight.” Sadly, the warmth of such memories is doused by the dread that washes over her when she turns to face her present reality: a community that knows of her failings, neighbors who whisper behind her back, shame that greets her everywhere she goes. In this town she is a woman without innocence, without inheritance, without dignity or respect. She is shunned by some, viewed as damaged goods by most. There is no resolution; there is no undoing what’s already been done. 

Lifting the vessel to her waist, she lets out a sigh and begins the trek back into town. Thankfully the path from Jacob’s Well to her dwelling in Shechem is not far. “See you tomorrow,” she says to the old well behind her.

.     .     .

Dinah watches the men with ropes lower themselves into the darkness. Her father, Jacob, stays in the daylight, waiting to call down instructions. His disjointed hip causes him to seek support, so he leans against a pile of debris nearby. Everyday this pile gets larger as more rocks and dirt are displaced by the relentless digging. And every day, Dinah, being a young woman full of curiosity and thought, gets more and more bored with it all.

The well is nothing but a hole until water is reached. Therefore Dinah and her mother, Leah, have to travel to a local spring to retrieve water. This is Dinah’s favorite part of the day. It’s a break from the camp and it affords her the opportunity to see other young women from the area. Secretly she kind of hopes that her father’s servants never strike water. They can go on digging a hole as far as she is concerned, and she will keep going to a popular spring.

On the day Jacob’s servants finally call up water, Dinah finds solace in one thing alone: she knows that her brothers will be summoned from the fields to come celebrate the well’s completion, and the anticipation of their homecoming is enough to keep her eyes scanning the horizon. She is thrilled to see all of her brothers but most especially her full-brothers Simeon and Levi. Simeon and Levi are her favorites, both having a flare for adventure that she finds exciting. They never fail to return from the fields with stories to tell. When the two of them arrive, she runs out and hugs them. She knows that their departure will come all too soon, and, of course, it does. It always does. Within days they are gone again and she is left behind.

It’s another afternoon and Dinah stands alone by the new well. She’s come to retrieve water––it’s so convenient now––but instead she is looking off toward the city of Shechem. The sound of music, a faint but upbeat melody, is carried to her by the wind. There is the sound of a crowd in lively spirits. She gathers that a festival is taking place among the townspeople (Josephus Antiqu. l. 1. c. 21. sect. 1). She pictures herself there, among the local women dressed in their finest clothing. Now that she is kept from the spring and isolated from her brothers, she decides that enough is enough. She will go against her father’s wishes. She will venture into Shechem despite Jacob’s telling her to stay away. After all, if her brothers get to set out for days traveling to unseen fields, what harm can be done if she leaves only for a few hours to visit a nearby village? 

Biting her lower lip, she starts down the path from Jacob’s Well to Shechem. She is by herself, unchaperoned, and walking quickly. When she passes through the gates of the city, she slows down, her eyes admiring a lively crowd of unfamiliar faces. She feels like she has stepped into a different world, a world that puts boredom in its place. A smile crosses her face. At the same time, a smile crosses the face of the city’s charismatic young prince.

Prince Shechem is the one from whom the town gets its name. Over the course of history, the location and the neighborhood will assume other names such as Sychar and Nablus, but for now, Shechem is its name, and Prince Shechem is a man at the top of the pecking order––the “most honored man in his father’s house” (Genesis 34:19). As the ruler’s favorite son, Shechem gets whatever he wants. 

He watches this new woman wander through his city. A lustful desire brews behind his eyelids. Her simple, innocent nature is out of place here. He finds it attractive, more so than the colorful fashions parading in the festival. With a short command he orders his men to seize her, to deliver her at once to his personal quarters. His men act without question. Dinah doesn’t understand what is happening until she finds herself a captive in Shechem’s chambers. A prisoner in his house, at the mercy of an evil man, there is no one to stop him from ravishing her as he robs her of her virginity. 

Word soon reaches Dinah’s brothers in the country. Incensed with anger, they return from the fields immediately. A murderous rage rivets the fists of Simeon and Levi as they picture their little sister still a captive in that man’s house, as they try to console their distraught mother who now refuses to leave her tent. They look to their father Jacob to do something, but he holds his peace! He is indecisive! He is afraid! It is obvious to them: the man with a limp is broken. Simeon and Levi will have to take matters into their own hands. Their plan will be calculated, merciless and violent, and shrouded by religion. 

Their scheme is set into motion. They play on Shechem’s selfishness (Genesis 34:23); they use the sign of the covenant to conceal their motives as well as achieve them. Within a matter of days, every male Shechemite in the city––including Prince Shechem himself––lies dead in his own dwelling, murdered at the edge of a blade. Simeon and Levi rescue their sister from Shechem’s house (Genesis 34:26), stepping over Shechem’s body as they leave. They carry Dinah back to the safety of Jacob’s camp without saying much between them. They aren’t sure what to expect when they return. 

The two of them are cleaning their swords with water from Jacob’s Well when a servant approaches. “He is ready to see you,” the servant says, a little put off that his efforts at the well went to this. 

Jacob is pacing the floor of his tent when they enter, his beloved wife Rachel sitting behind him, their beloved teenage son Joseph beside her. She stares at them in disbelief as Jacob sets in. He is both stunned and outraged, his anger steeped in fear. Simeon and Levi are respectful as their father dresses them down but they harden themselves to his reproof, their hearts rather in the tent of their mother, wherein Dinah has finally fallen asleep for the first time in days. Dinah will never get her innocence back, but at least they managed to get Dinah back. Jacob can’t refute that much.

In time, Simeon and Levi will pay a price for their actions. As a result of their violence at Shechem, Simeon and Levi will lose out on their inheritance (Genesis 49:5-7)––the firstborn status passing over them to land on their younger brother Judah instead. Indeed, this town called Shechem will forever be remembered as a place where not just innocence is lost but inheritance as well. Jacob will refrain from speaking of it, burying the shame deep in his heart, but the well which bears his name will long testify to a time he cannot forget.

.     .     .

The curly-haired professor steps up to the blackboard and scribbles a Bible reference in large white letters: “2 Kings 17.” Students start typing, pens go writing. He turns to the class and says, “The origin of the Samaritan people is recorded in this chapter. It describes a moment in time––circa 722 BC––in which the Assyrians invade Israel and take control of the region of Samaria.

“As it records,” he says, pulling out a notebook prepared with Scripture, “‘The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marching against Samaria and laying siege to it for three years . . . The king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them [elsewhere].’ In their place, ‘the king brought people from 1) Babylon, 2) Kuthah, 3) Avva, 4) Hamath and 5) Sepharvaim, and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns.’

“‘Each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled . . . The people from Babylon [had their god], those from Kuthah [had their god], those from Hamath [had their god]; the Avvites [had their gods], and the Sepharvites gave up their children as sacrifices to [their gods] . . . They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with their own customs. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.’” 

The professor sets his notebook down to tell the history in his own words. “Now as time passes,” he explains, “these five imported nations intermarry with the surrounding Jewish population. And their mixture––this intermingling of origins and influences––comes to produce its own people group known as ‘the Samaritans.’ The Samaritans thus represent a fusion of Jewish and Gentile blood. And this, well, isn’t without its complications. Their Jewish neighbors to the south, down in Judea, despise them, resent them, reject them. They are seen as half-breeds and sell-outs. Though Samaritans may be partially Jewish, they have no place at a Jewish table because they have intermarried with the cultures of the five other nations, idolatry and all.” 

The professor taps his chin. “Hmm... they’re almost like a woman with five husbands, estranged to the Jewish nation with whom they reside.” 

He paces in front of his stool now, looking down at the floor and then up at the class. “The relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans worsens when the Samaritans construct their own temple away from Jerusalem. It is raised up on the mountain of blessings (Deuteronomy 11:29)––that is, that mountain beside Jacob’s Well, that mountain above Shechem, that mountain called Gerizim. Gerizim––” he turns and writes out G-E-R-I-Z-I-M, “––was, and still is, their holy mountain, the mountain they claim was not submerged in the flood, the oldest and most central mountain on earth. Honoring this holy mountain remains the grand finale of their 10 commandments. Still even today, the Samaritans ascend it to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to them––per their version of the Torah––God chose Mount Gerizim from the beginning, not Mount Moriah. 

“Now appreciate this. For 200 years (give or take), the temple atop Mount Gerizim is the very center of all religious life for the Samaritan people. Daily they bring their sacrifices here; daily they turn toward the temple to pray. It is a big deal. And Shechem––due to its proximity to Gerizim––becomes the ‘Jerusalem’ of Samaria, as it were. It’s a booming place during this time, robust and exciting, filled with religious fervor. From about 330 BC to 130 BC––the Samaritan temple, Gerizim, Shechem––if it’s happening, it’s happening here. That’s what the Samaritans would tell you. But the Jews down in Judea? Well, they abhor every bit of it. 

“Here’s a Jewish scribe––Ben Sira of Jerusalem––writing in 175 BC. He declares (Ben Sira 50:25-26): ‘Two nations my soul detests and the third is not even a people: those who live in Seir and the Philistines, and the foolish people that live in Shechem.’ Let me translate: he’s saying, I detest the people of Esau! I detest the Philistine people! But those fools in Shechem?––they aren’t even a people! 

“Can you sense his disdain for them? I have no doubt: had he been alive for it, Ben Sira would have relished to hear the fate that befalls the temple at Gerizim. It happens around 130 BC. An army of Jews––led by their High Priest––ascend the mountain by Jacob’s Well and, to the horror of all the Samaritans below, level it to the ground amid cheers and long-awaited laughter.” 

The professor returns to his wooden stool and removes his glasses. He is imagining the scene––flames licking the sky above the city, shofars sounding out from the mountain’s summit––when he pivots and says, “By the time the woman meets Jesus at the well in John 4, Shechem is but a shell of its former self. Just like she is.”

.     .     .

Alone she walks the path from Shechem to Jacob’s Well, a water jar––again empty––against her chest. Her head is covered; her eyes are straight ahead. She rounds a corner and her countenance falls. There is a stranger at the well today. 

She debates whether or not to turn back, but she decides to continue forward. She pretends not to notice the stranger as she approaches the well. She anticipates no conversation. She simply begins her routine as if he is not next to her. Besides, his appearance would suggest that he is Jewish, and Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 

A few quiet minutes pass before she peeks at him. He is seated on the ground, his head craned against a small pile of rocks behind him. He is closing his eyes and breathing steadily. There is a bead of sweat on his brow that he doesn’t wipe away. At a glance, he appears to be a tired traveler who has overcome a long distance to be here. Is he asleep? She is trying to decide when his eyes open to catch the woman studying him. 

“Give me a drink,” he says with a Galilean accent. 

Her focus darts back to the well in front of her. She acts as if she is not embarrassed. She tries to play it off. She does not yet realize that her entire life is about to change. For she has just made eye contact with the Savior of the World, the Lord Incarnate, her own Messiah. He had arrived a little early to their appointment, an appointment that was scheduled shortly after the Garden.

.     .     .

The professor shoots up from his stool. “Adam and Eve are naked yet they feel no shame!” the professor exclaims, taking his students by surprise. “But then it happens: the woman eats the forbidden fruit. She passes it to the man and he follows along. The two of them lose their innocence and they realize they are naked.

“Confronted by a new sensation called shame, Adam and Eve make for themselves loincloths. But God wants more for them––He always does, doesn’t He?––so He clothes them with a garment. Literally, coats of skin. He clothes them with coats of skin––‘kat’not or’ as the Hebrew has it. 

“This Hebrew word or is noteworthy: or can mean either light or skin depending on the way it is spelled. But, audibly, it’s the same word in Hebrew. Light and skin are homophones in that language; they sound exactly alike. So Jewish audiences who heard the Torah read aloud (which is the way most people throughout history experienced the Torah, by the way––hearing it, and not reading it) had to use context to determine whether the word meant light or skin. With that in mind, I want you to hear this detail like they did: God made Adam and Eve a coat of or. For an audience tuning in with the ear, there’s a secret being passed to you. But we’ll come back to it.

“For now I want to make an important distinction between a loincloth and a garment. Don’t confuse them. A loincloth merely conceals what is shameful to expose. But a garment––one’s clothing––fulfills a more noble purpose. A garment reveals the person inside. Consider the Temple’s holy veil, the garment which God rips in two when His Son is dies. (In Genesis 37:34 Jacob does something similar.) Embroidered upon the veil are cherubim. But then also, behind the veil––upon the Ark of the Covenant––are cherubim! So, in other words, the veil conceals what is behind it (cherubim) and yet the veil reveals what is behind it (cherubim). This, class, is the higher function of a garment. It conceals the person but it reveals the personality––the value and the character of that individual.”

The professor pauses to let his students make their notes before he pivots yet again. “Bookmark that thought and let’s make another observation. The Torah says that, when man’s eyes are opened, Adam and Eve realize that they are naked. How can we explain such a sudden realization? Or put differently: how can their nakedness go unrealized until this moment?”

He waits. 

“The key,” he says, “may lie in the opening chapter of Genesis. We see there something of interest: there is light on Day 1, and yet you’ll notice the sun isn’t created until Day 4. This means the light of Day 1 predates the sun itself. But light before the sun? How can this be?”

The professor grins. “Simply put, there are different kinds of light! 

“The light of Day 1 is spiritual by nature. The light of Day 4 is physical by nature. You have to consider the source: the light of Day 1 is from God who is spirit; the light of Day 4 is, well, from the sun. 

“Now understand: prior to man’s fall from perfection, his untarnished eyes could perceive spiritual light as plainly as he could perceive physical light. And not just that: there’s an idea in Judaism that the former light emanated from Adam and Eve themselves. If you looked at man in his original state, through his radiance you might be able to make out the wispy outline of a body...

“...I am reminded of Jesus at His transfiguration, or Moses after coming down from God’s Presence at Sinai, the skin of his face shining.” 

The professor draws his eyes across a row of students. “Today it is exactly the opposite. Today you see only the body, and maybe––just maybe––you catch a glimpse of light exuding from the face of a truly joyful person. But! In the perfection of Eden, the light which emanated from man was primary, brilliant and beautiful, seen as plainly as sunlight. It acted as a garment, concealing Adam and Eve’s nakedness yet revealing the holiness and the godliness within them. You know, this isn’t such a radical idea because Adam and Eve were created in the LORD’s image and likeness, and according to Psalm 104, ‘The LORD wraps Himself with light as with a garment.’

“But when man’s eyes are opened by the forbidden fruit, they are simultaneously shut to the spiritual light they once perceived. The spiritual light doesn’t go anywhere; it doesn’t cease to exist, per se. It’s still there, but man loses his ability to perceive it so plainly, so effortlessly. It goes that man’s perception is thereby diminished, his senses now constricted to the physical world alone. In that instant, Adam and Eve realize they are naked, and they are humiliated––seeing each other as animals.

“The two of them respond by making loincloths to cover themselves. But a mere covering is not enough. God wants more for them. So, knowing their measurements, He tailors them a garment made of animal skin. 

“As I imagine the scene, I can’t help but picture Adam and Eve standing side by side, speechless in their loincloths, watching God go to work for the second week in a row. In this moment they witness an event they will never forget. They witness the first physical death ever to occur, the sacrificial death of an innocent animal. It is dealt for man’s sake, performed by God’s hand as He prepares humanity for a life beyond Eden. It tells a profound truth: that there is one death even in heaven on earth. 

“Adam and Eve then, wearing their new coats of skin, exit the premises. A sword comes down behind them to guard the way to the Tree of Life. By now it’s official: their actions have separated them from their inheritance––their inheritance being an experience that God wanted to pass down to them. Innocence lost, inheritance lost, they make their way into an alien world. As the years go on, there is no doubt that Eve, especially, feels extraordinary guilt for setting into motion this chain of events. Her husband tries to console her, insisting “Hey I ate it too! It’s not your fault!” But Adam’s words fail to relieve the burden that bears down on Eve. She carries the guilt with her for the rest of her life like she carries that garment wherever they travel. Centuries later, she can’t bring herself to wear the garment anymore because it reminds her of what she did. It comes to represent the guilt she struggles to get away from. And yet, she can’t throw it away either, because it’s so special. God Himself made it for her! So what does she do? She keeps the garment folded up, hidden in a chest that only Adam knows about.”

The professor catches in his mind a glimpse of his late wife of 45 years. A specific memory: she’s taking off her pearl necklace, she’s lost in the bedroom mirror of their first house, she’s reminding him of a guilt that she took on before they ever met, of a child she chose not to meet. “The woman at the well is a continuation of her story,” he says, pulling his attention back to the classroom. 

“Jesus sees Eve in the woman’s wounded disposition. He calls her ‘Woman’ because He is speaking to the one who is called woman. At some level, it is at this moment that God Himself finally gets to sit down with Eve––the woman––and speak to her face to face, one on one. He’s waited so long to do it, and traveled so far to make it. Beneath His spoken words, God tells her, I know what you’ve done. But you have not lost your place with Me. You have not lost your inheritance. You can still worship Me, access Me, commune with Me––not in the Garden, but in spirit and truth. Forget the mountains; forget the temples. It’s not a place you need. It’s a Person. It’s Me, the One right beside you. I’m tired, I’m thirsty, but I made it. I made it to you. I love you, and I want you to have something I brought for you. I think you’ll recognize it. It’s a gift from the Garden...

“The gift He gives her is living water! Jesus speaks of it not as a well but as a fountain. He says, ‘If you knew the gift of God ... He would have given you living water ... water that will become a fountain of water within [you], springing up to eternal life!’

“Now stop.” The professor holds up his hand. “Jesus speaks of water, so let’s pause to observe water in the Garden of Eden.” The professor goes to the blackboard and starts drawing a simplified diagram, explaining, “Today’s water cycle operates as follows: clouds precipitate rain, rain pools together to form rivers, rivers empty out into oceans, ocean water evaporates to form clouds. The process starts over. But! In the Garden, we’re told that water does not come down as rain (Genesis 2:5). 

“There’s no rain, and yet, in Genesis 2:10, we’re told that a river flows out of Eden. Never do we see a river flowing into Eden; we see only that a river flows out of Eden! Pray tell, if there is no rain, what, then, is the source of this river? What is it that feeds this river flowing out of Eden? You may say it’s the mist or the vapor (אד, ade in Hebrew) mentioned in Genesis 2:6. But note: the nature of mist is precision. Mist supplies each plant with exactly the amount of water it needs––no more, no less––a feature that’s indicative of the perfection of the Garden. So again, I ask, where did Eden’s river come from? 

The room offers no response which the professor is happy about. “The truth of the matter remains somewhat foggy,” he says, holding back a chuckle. “However, I would contend that the river flowing out of Eden arises from a natural spring located somewhere inside the Garden. The NSpring water, welling up to the surface, forms the river that flows forth from Eden, a river with so much excess water that it divides into four separate rivers (2:10-14). Yes, as far as I am concerned, Eden’s river is fed by a fountain within itself! 

“From the beginning in Genesis, we jump to the end in Revelation. In the last chapters of Revelation the New Jerusalem is revealed, dignified as a bride adorned for her husband. God wipes away the curse; the tears and the pain are no more. The shame is overcome. The rescue is complete. And the One seated on the Throne is surrounded by a multitude wearing white robes, robes that conceal but reveal that which is contained within: purity, royalty, richness, forgiveness. 

“Together this multitude embodies Isaiah 61:10.” Reading from his notebook again, the professor declares, “‘I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exalt in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of Yeshua (salvation); He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom dresses himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels!’” 

Now peering up at his students: “Their robes are made white by the blood of an innocent One––the Lamb. This time the sacrificial death prepares man not for an exit but for an entrance, an entrance into the City of God with its Tree of Life (Revelation 22:14). The One on the Throne proclaims, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life. The one who overcomes shall inherit these things... (21:6)

“Living water from a spring! Freely given––a gift from God! An inheritance to those who overcome! Students, it’s every element Jesus shares with the woman at the well. It’s a return to the Garden of Eden. 

“Portrayed in this final scene is the Garden’s remarkable cultivation. We see a river flowing from the throne of God, a river of the water of life (22:1-2a). I suspect this river is an outpouring of the spring of life that wells up beneath God’s Throne. The water of the river of life nourishes the Tree of Life downstream, a tree that is planted by the waters. It seems that Eden has been seeded with so many mansions that it’s blossomed into a city! And, it being cast in the light of creation’s first day (21:23), the city will glow with its streets of transparent gold, its foundations of emerald and onyx, its gates of pearl and water as bright as crystal. Can you imagine it?

“Now cut back to the well.”

.     .     .

It’s midday on the dusty outskirts of Shechem. The woman is drawing water when the stranger beside her splits the silence between them. She is caught off guard. The stranger looks at her as if He has known her for a long time. She cannot explain it. She does not know what He sees in her. 

In her He sees Eve, alone in a tent clutching an old garment upon her lap. He sees Dinah, a prisoner at Shechem, ashamed and separated from her father. He sees Samaria, a woman who has married herself to five husbands yet remains estranged to the one she is with right now. He sees His own Bride, burdened and isolated, thirsty for living water. He wants her to take in the life of the Garden if only she will ask Him for a drink. If only she will give up what she has in exchange for what He has. 

He asks for a drink and a conversation ensues. The conversation continues when Jesus’ disciples approach the well themselves, having returned with food from Shechem. The disciples are amazed to see the way their master is talking to this Samaritan woman. He and this Samaritan communicate as if they are old friends reconnecting after some distance. The disciples don’t interrupt: they don’t ask her anything; they don’t ask him anything. Instead, they wait their turn. 

At last the woman raises from the well. She is grinning. There is one last look at Jesus before she turns and starts back into town, passing through Jesus’ disciples on her way. Shoulder to shoulder among these Jewish men, she doesn’t cower away from them because she is one of them now––a disciple of Christ, and in Christ, there is neither man nor woman, Jew nor Samaritan. There are only those set to inherit the kingdom of God. 

Her entire jar she leaves at the feet of their master. It is her response to Him: You can have all that I have. I have come to realize who You are and what You know, where You’re from and what You promise. You are my Messiah, the One who sets all things straight, the One who knows everything there is to know about me yet waits to meet with me face to face during a walk by myself. Your words are light and Your light is tailored to fit my soul. I will wear Your promises like a new garment, like a white robe fit for an entrance into heaven’s finest banquet hall.

Whereas Dinah was saved physically, this woman is saved spiritually. Whereas Dinah was returned to Jacob in shame, this woman is restored to Israel in faith. When the woman enters the city she is a new creation, a Shechemite with a circumcised heart. She speaks to the very people she used to avoid; she speaks of the vulnerability she used to avoid––her past––and she holds it up to the public despite any reluctance. “Come!” she says to the town, “and meet a man who’s told me everything I’ve ever done.” 

A number of men in the village exchange glances, thinking, “Everything she’s ever done?” 

She overcomes a familiar shame as she goes on inviting those around her to meet the stranger at the edge of town. Her change in behavior is so undeniable that the townspeople hardly recognize the woman they used to know. When they look at her now, they see the spirit and truth of the Garden. They sense living water welling up out of her, and they are captivated by such availability. 

.      .      .

The professor sits on the stool again, exasperated. “When I picture it,” he says, his shoulders forward, his eyes out the window, “I picture Eve herself bounding into the village wearing a brand new, creaseless coat of or. Hemmed in by light, she is dazzling and dignified. In her hands, she is holding up something that belongs to her. It’s the old skin that she once kept hidden. She is pointing to it now, laughing. It looks different in the light. 

“Students I hope you see it. The woman at the well is part of a much larger storyline. She is part of the New Jerusalem, a bride dignified and adorned. And it is there, under the shade of a mighty tree beside bright waters, that I anticipate meeting her someday. Like John––and others––I will ask her to tell me the story of her encounter with Jesus on the day He changed her life, on the afternoon she and Shechem drank from Eden.”

He sits there now, quiet. The lecture hall is quiet. 

“That’s all I have share today,” he says as if his mind has carried him elsewhere.

The lecture hall erupts with motion and noise. A stream of students begins to pour out the door. A single student separates from the rest and approaches the professor sitting alone on his wooden stool. The professor breaks from his thought and smiles. The student says, “You never told us why John 4 is your favorite moment in the Bible.”

“Because it was my wife’s,” he says, smiling still. 

The Woman Caught in Adultery

A multitude has amassed in Jerusalem. For a week the city remains beyond full occupancy, alive with the spirit of celebration. Four spectacular menorahs, so tall that ladders lean against them, burn so bright at night that every courtyard in the city is illuminated by their firelight. Beneath these four towering torches, people dance and rejoice in the Temple courts; performers juggle and do handstands; the Levites sing and chant the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). The joyous clamor of harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets ring out into the countryside. Shepherds hear the merriment from miles away; it begs them to come and join the party. Certainly, this is no ordinary week. 

It is the festival of Sukkot (also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths). Sukkot is the seventh of the feasts; it occurs during the seventh month of the year; and it is seven days long. It is not a “Jewish” festival, per se, but one of God’s sacred occasions, an appointment on His calendar. “God’s calendar is a Divine plan; a schedule whereby man can plug into a network of vast Heavenly resources. Each festival arrives just in time; each in its respective season.” All males are commanded to come up to Jerusalem for Sukkot, bringing and giving whatever they are able (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Once here, pilgrims go without much sleep for the activities begin with a trumpet blast early in the morning and go on long after sundown. After all, the flaming menorahs never give out since each and every stem is daily fueled with four gallons of oil.

For seven days the celebration kicks off the same way. In the morning––following a procession down to the Pool of Siloam––a throng of people makes their way into the Temple courts to watch a priest perform the tradition of a libation ceremony. In the ceremony, a priest ascends the ramp onto the altar where two silver bowls wait for him: one holding water (from the Pool of Siloam) and the other holding a red wine. The surrounding audience grows quiet with anticipation as they wait for the priest to raise the bowls and pour out the contents. Symbolically this is an act of prayer, a prayer that God will pour out His blessing of rain upon the land. (Sukkot leads into the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. Rain and Sukkot are linked prophetically as well. See Zechariah 14:17.) The libation ceremony is each day’s main event, and Day #7––Hoshana Rabbah––is considered to be the greatest day of them all. 

The main event on Day #7 has arrived. This is the epicenter of the entire celebration. The morning air is fresh, the autumn sun is rising, and the golden stone walls of the Temple are glistening. The crowd sits to watch the priest perform the final water-pouring ceremony of the festival. This time the priest builds the suspense by circling the altar seven times before ascending the ramp. When he finally reaches the top, he holds the silver bowls high into the air. The crowd is hushed but the feeling among them is electric. The priest raises his eyes to heaven and tips the bowls forward. Wine and water come spilling out. They are splashing against the altar when, without warning, Jesus stands up to make an announcement. 

He declares with a loud voice, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink! Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 

All heads turn at once! Eyes are wide; jaws are dropped. Even the priest atop the altar looks over at Jesus. The priest is caught off guard. Here he is, having just poured out the water as an appeal to the Creator to provide water for Israel, and Jesus, as if to answer the prayer, tells the people to come to him for water! 

As it will be pointed out, “Jesus promises living water for all who believe. What is living water? It is cool, fresh, non-stagnant spring water; it is water with a current, a life flow. In Israel water is especially precious, and the most prized source of water is a spring, the sweetest and best water available. It bubbles up from the depths and continues to flow even when cisterns and streams have dried up. This is the water Jesus promises, the best water, real spiritual satisfaction.” The water used in the water-pouring ceremony is indeed spring water from the Pool of Siloam (it having been channeled from the Gihon Spring), but Jesus is the true wellspring of life, the One from whom all blessings flow. He is the fountain of living water, and his life will be poured out on the altar––water and wine picturing the water and blood poured out at Calvary. Should a man believe in Him, his heart will welcome the kingdom of Heaven, a kind of Garden of Eden from which rivers flowed (Genesis 2:10-14). 

For now, Jesus finishes his declaration and sits down. There are murmurs in the audience, curious looks, a few gasps and a few glares. Some go to the officers and request that he be arrested at once for such an interruption. The officers refrain from doing so because they are somewhat mesmerized by this man. No one has ever spoken like him before, and he has done nothing to threaten the people. When the officers later report to the chief priests and Pharisees, the officers are scolded. The Pharisees question their intelligence. “Have you also been deceived?” The Pharisees go on to scorn the entire crowd, calling them “a mob.” After all, anyone who knows the law would demand that Jesus be arrested. Clearly this accursed “mob” knows nothing of the law! The Pharisees seethe with anger. Sukkot is supposed to be the most joyous time of the year! Yet Jesus is a thief who has hijacked the traditions which bring them joy.

At this point, a respected member among the Pharisees named Nicodemus joins the conversation. Nicodemus has previously come to Jesus, has had a drink of living water. He came away refreshed with new insight. The others, though, do not know about his encounter, for he visited Jesus under the cover of night. Nevertheless, Nicodemus sees the whole situation differently. “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” he asks them.

A valid point, they come to realize. And a good idea, actually. Their minds are turning, scheming. Some of them agree: “Let’s test him. Let’s ‘give him a hearing to see what He does.’” So they hatch a plan. They select one of their own to initiate the process, a man under their authority. They designate him to do the deed; they grant him immunity and anonymity. The man disappears into the night to put their plot into action. Before the Pharisees part ways, they enjoy a good chuckle. “See you in the morning,” they say to each other, smiling. 

Morning dawns. It’s now “the eighth day” (Leviticus 23:29), the special day immediately following the seven day festival of Sukkot. This day is called Shemini Atzeret (“the eighth [day] of assembly”), and in Israel, it is also Simchat Torah (“rejoicing in the Torah”). This fact is important; context is everything.

The Torah is kept on an annual reading cycle in every Synagogue. On the day of Simchat Torah, the cycle renews. In other words, on this day the final portion in Deuteronomy is read followed by the beginning of Genesis. Over the course of the rest of year, the Torah will be read portion by portion until the following Simchat Torah arrives when, again, the scroll will be finished and rolled back to its beginning. It is on this day, Simchat Torah, that Jesus returns to the Temple courts to teach again (John 8).

Since Sukkot is a pilgrimage feast, there are still a lot of people in town. There are Jews from all over the region in Jesus’ audience. A number of them were especially intrigued by his unprecedented statement at yesterday’s libation ceremony; they want to hear more. He is devoting all of his attention to them when suddenly there is an interruption. He is approached by a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law. Among them is a lone woman. She is silent, humiliated, and defeated. She’s been caught in the act of adultery, and in this town she is done for.

The Pharisees have been waiting for this moment. Hours earlier, they were pleased to learn that their plans had come together perfectly. Their designated man had arranged the meeting. She had foolishly shown up, and then right on cue, a few men busted in and seized her by surprise. She was caught red-handed: guilty, defenseless. She saw her whole life collapse into itself in an instant. But little did she realize, the take-down wasn’t about her at all. She simply served as the prop they needed to take Him down. Quite frankly, they had long known that she was an adulteress. It wasn’t until last night that they even cared. She had just become useful to them. 

The Pharisees shove her in front of Jesus. She kneels voluntarily between Him and them, her arms limp and her face bent toward the ground. Center stage in front of a sizable audience, she has never been this embarrassed. She wears only her undergarments, further proof that she has been caught in the act. The Pharisees have thought this through. 

The lead Pharisee engages Jesus. In this scene, he is an actor playing like he is angry at the woman. “Teacher!” he says to Jesus. “This woman has been caught in the act of adultery! Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 

Game, set, match. The Pharisees have Him. It’s a win/win for them. If Jesus says stone her, he’s in trouble with the Romans. If Jesus says don’t stone her, he’s in trouble with the Jews. Either way, he loses. Either way, they reclaim the joy that feels taken from them.

.     .     .     .     .

The carpenter and his apprentice kneel over the project, their backs to the rest of the house. Behind them sits the old rabbi of Nazareth, stroking his bearded chin and watching the father/son duo construct a lamp stand for his home. His attention is focused on the carpenter’s son––no more than 10 years old, an apprentice beginning younger than most. Perhaps such expedience can be attributed to the precociousness of the child, or, perhaps, to the industriousness of his father, Joseph. Joseph is among the very best that Israel can offer, both in character and in carpentry. The rabbi is blessed to have Joseph as regular member of his synagogue. But it is at the synagogue that the boy, especially, has impressed the rabbi.

“If I may say,” says the rabbi, now leaning back in his chair.

The duo stops and turns around, wood and tool still in their grasp. 

“Your boy, Joseph, reads from the Torah in a way that is unlike anything I have ever heard. It feels like listening to the words from the mouth of Moses.” The rabbi grins. “If he weren’t studying under the most talented carpenter in town, I might ask him to study under me, the most talented rabbi in town.”

The boy lights up, and Joseph smiles at the old man. “What––so he can grow up to become a lawyer? I think carpentry better suits an honest man.”

The rabbi laughs at the blatant poke-in-the-ribs. “A teacher of the law, yes! Learned. Respected. Good looking.” 

“Afraid to get his hands dirty.” 

“Oh stop it!” 

The rabbi swipes his arm at Joseph as if to slap him upside the head. He then stands and leaves the room to fetch his workers some water. Joseph turns back to the project after a hearty laugh. Refocusing on the task at hand, he pinches two pieces of wood together to hold them into place. A nail is poised to connect the piece on top to a larger piece beneath it. Joseph nods, so the boy lifts the mallet and takes a swing. The nail barely responds. Two, three more swings and the nail has barely moved.

“Let me try,” Joseph says. “Don’t be afraid to drive it home.” Drawing the mallet into his mighty grip, Joseph swings once and the nail sinks solidly into the wood, squaring the surface with the larger piece underneath. They smile at each other, the boy more so. Joseph passes the mallet back to the boy. “The greatest carpenters make the fewest strikes,” he says just as the rabbi returns to the room with a jug of fresh water.

.     .     .     .    .

“This woman has been caught in the act of adultery! Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 

The unfolding showdown is one between the Son of God and a group of practiced, professional lawyers. Much of what transpires is hidden in the mastery of Torah and Jewish law. At such a skill level, the Hebrew Scriptures have been memorized, and with regards to these Pharisees, they certainly reviewed select passages before bedtime just to have them fresh on recall. However, they’ve failed to realize that they are dealing with the very author of the textbook, and that he isn’t afraid to drive it home.

Deuteronomy 17 states, “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, then afterward the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you. If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge––whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults––take them to the place the Lord your God will choose. Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict.”

This section in the law comes to Jesus’ mind immediately. He thinks: Where are the witnesses? The witnesses must be willing to cast the first stone. This is by God’s design so that, if the witnesses are found to be compromised, the execution becomes a murder scene, and the so-called witnesses become liable for murder in that they cast the first stone. A man ought not testify against someone unless he is ready to put his own life on the line. 

Another question: Where is the other party? The Torah is clear: the adulterer is as guilty as the adulteress (Leviticus 20:10). And yet here they are presenting only the woman. 

Jesus turns over another question: Why are they bringing this woman to me? In their minds, I am no more than an outsider, an impostor. The law is clear in its requirement to take such cases to the Levitical priests. If these men were genuinely concerned, they wouldn’t be bringing her to me. 

These observations click through his mind in an instant. He recognizes their question for the trap that it is. He sees what this is about. 

“So what do you say, teacher?” they ask him again.

When the enemy offers Option A or Option B, always choose Option C. In response, he says nothing. Instead he kneels down and starts writing in the dirt. What is He writing? The audience wants to know! The Pharisees just want him to fall into their trap, so they keep pressing him to answer their question. But instead he keeps writing on the ground with His finger. This is the only record of Jesus ever writing anything. 

When the Pharisees begin to realize what he is writing, they are caught off guard. They can’t believe it, or make sense of it. For some reason, he is writing out their names in the dirt! This they find very puzzling. Not at all the response they expected.

Jesus stands up and faces them. Having gotten their attention, he says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” That is to say, who is ready to put your life on it? Because if you testify against her and there is something that you are hiding––which I know you are––then your part in the execution becomes murder, and you yourself stand to be executed. He lets the question hang in the air.

Of course, they are hiding something! They’ve set her up! This whole case would be thrown out of court! And Jesus knows it, too. As a defense lawyer, he’s torn a gaping hole in the prosecution. As a teacher, he’s schooled them in the classroom of Torah. As the Son of God, he now looks them in the eye and sees right into their hearts which are suddenly more exposed than this woman. They realize that he is on to them. They realize he’s in on their secret. He has the moral high ground, and they have nothing to come back with. To keep appearances they don’t show it outwardly, but their hearts are stricken with shame. They really do think of themselves as pious individuals, yet looking into the eyes of this man, they catch a glimpse of their real condition. But they are resistant; another strike is needed. Once again Jesus kneels down and starts writing.

What is he writing this time? A portion of Jeremiah 17:13, a passage the Pharisees are familiar with, a verse beginning with God’s holy Name (YHVH)...

O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake You shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from You shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.
Just yesterday he had declared, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” Yet these Pharisees had rejected him and his message. They did not believe him to be the source of living water. And now, as Jesus carves this verse into the dirt, the Pharisees begin to leave the scene beginning with the oldest among them. The oldest are the ones most trained in the words of Torah. Not only first to recognize the passage, they are the first to grasp the brilliance of his response. Without speaking a single contrary word, he had nailed them to the dark reality of their actions. He had used to the law to bring grace. The very thing they used to condemn her, he used to protect her! The response was so solid and mighty that the Pharisees––these master-lawyers in Jewish law––went away from him, one by one, speechless. Here was a man of such stature that he could take a trap and turn it into a teaching. 

Still on his knees, Jesus keeps writing while a few young Pharisees linger. Eventually they too leave the scene. Jesus is left alone with the alleged adulteress She still kneels motionless in front of him. His audience hasn’t said a word since the whole ordeal began. They now watch with curiosity as he continues to write in the dirt. What is he going to do next? 

Jesus finishes writing, showing care for each letter in the passage. Finally he looks up from the ground and sees that all of the Pharisees have departed. He stands and says, “Woman, where are they?” She gazes up at him and they make eye contact. “Has no one condemned you?” he asks.

“No one, Lord.” A glimmer of Eden’s light in her eyes.

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more,” he tells her. 

His audience watches as she stands, turns, then walks away without another remark. She soon rounds the corner and exits the Temple courts. Jesus completes a silent prayer for her before he turns back to the audience and goes on teaching, picking up where he left off although now his hands are dirty.

“Do you see what just happened?” a man in the audience whispers to his son. “I’ll explain it to you later.”

Just before sunset, the man and his son––out-of-towners visiting Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot, staying an extra day for Simchat Torah––discuss the events they witnessed earlier that morning. The father explains to his son something from the Torah called “The Sotah” (The Ordeal). It is described in Numbers 5. It deals with the case of a woman suspected of adultery. It can be called “Trial by God.” The procedure goes as follows: a husband, suspicious of his wife’s infidelity and overcome with jealousy, brings her to the Tabernacle (later to become the Temple). There a priest conducts a special ritual which promises to bring the truth to light. In this ritual, a liquid concoction is made. It begins as a strange combination made of holy water and dust from the Tabernacle floor. Next, a curse is written upon a scroll. The curse functions as an oath, for the woman is taking on an oath that she is innocent, but a curse if she is guilty. The oath includes the never-erased, sacred four-letter name of God: YHVH. It is the invoking of this holy name that gives the oath its weight, God being the primary witness and judge of the promises made. After the curse is written and the ink has dried, the ink is scraped off of the scroll and pushed into the liquid concoction. The woman suspected of adultery is then required to drink the final product––this bizarre mixture of holy water, dust from the Tabernacle floor, and the curse scrapped from a scroll. Once she drinks the bitter water, that is that. The ritual is complete. The husband and his wife go on their way. 

It is only with the passing of time that the results become evident. As the Torah says, if the woman loses her ability to bear children, her guilt is known and her barrenness serves as punishment. On the other hand, if her womb is fruitful, she is thereby cleared of the crime and innocent of all charges. God promises children to such a woman as a reward. Her husband, knowing the truth, can breath a sigh of relief. And God, having saved a marriage, having laid down His sacred Name for the sake of the innocent party, is thus glorified.

“Son,” the father says, “don’t you see? Since the woman never confessed to the alleged crime, nor were there any witnesses willing to cast the first stone, it became a case of suspected adultery. The woman became a candidate for the Sotah from Numbers 5.”

The son looks at his dad, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“On Hoshana Rabbah, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the source of living water. Then this morning the notion was tested. Jesus, acting as Messiah, perfectly voiced the Word of the Lord. Having seen no witnesses willing to condemn the woman, Jesus moved to the laws of suspected adultery. He called upon all the elements of the ritual: the dust from the Temple floor; the writing of something that would be erased; the invoking of God’s sacred name––YHVH. He was acting as the priest. He offered her a drink of living water––the Spirit of God! ‘Anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink.’ There is no doubt! Today she drank the most special drink of all. Not a bitter water that revealed her guilt but a living water that revealed his graciousness.” 

The father pauses as a new thought occurs to him. From near laughter, he says, “What day is today, son?” 

“Simchat Torah?” 

“Yes! Today is the day that the Torah is rolled back to be started again. This is exactly what Jesus did for that woman this morning. He rolled back the accusations and she began her life anew! So you see? Her experience is the scroll upon which the curse was written and from which the curse was removed! Truly, he is the Messiah!”