And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: (Genesis 3:14)
I was thinking about this recently and I started to wonder, “If Satan was already cursed because of being cast out of heaven, why curse him again?” and “How does it help us to know this curse?”
If we think this is just about a serpent, it seems like the curse is obvious. It’s implied that the serpent used to have legs and here has them taken away. It’s also implied that it used to eat something better, but is now relegated to only eating dust. Our view of snakes today is perfectly in line with the seemingly physical conditions God describes. Serpents have to slither everywhere. And they’re always sticking their tongues out, so it looks like they are licking the ground. (Of course, today we know that the tongue action is the way snakes sense things.)
As I thought about it, I wondered if maybe the Lord was making a statement about the curses that come to those who tempt like Satan does. Satan is already cursed, but it is us who must be warned from becoming his servants and tempting others. Eve briefly became Satan’s servant when tempting Adam to eat the fruit, so the warning is appropriate.
“upon thy belly shalt thou go” – This curse is about how faster travel has been somehow taken away. I think the larger theme is about progression. It teaches that those who tempt others will have their own spiritual progress substantially slowed to the point that everyone goes much faster. Not a pleasant prospect. Not only that, but any movement would happen on the belly instead of on legs. That may refer to how a tempter’s core motivation for acting would become satisfying their appetites. One might even say that a tempter would be enslaved by their appetites.
“dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” – This curse seems to be about what a tempter finds nourishing. A tempter feeds not on something sweet, but on gross stuff. If they want to eat dirt all their life instead of something that tastes better, their taste has become corrupted. They call evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Who wants to eat dirt? Not me. I’d rather eat tasty fruit from the tree of life than dirt.
So, I think this bit of knowledge can help us when we are being tempted. It helps us discern the consequences. We don’t want our progression slowed, we don’t want our appetites to be our motivation, and we don’t want to be have our moral and aesthetic tastes corrupted.
It can also help us think about what we have to offer others when we are trying to persuade them to try something. Will it stop their progression, enslave them to an appetite or corrupt them in some way? If so, then we shouldn’t try to pull them in, and we shouldn’t be in it either!