In Moses, we have the account of the earth’s creation, the story of Adam and Eve, their partaking of the fruit, and their subsequent fall and removal from the garden of Eden, followed by the explanation of the role that the Savior will play as redeemer for all of us. As part of this account we are able to read the dialogue between God, Adam, Eve, and Lucifer (referred to or symbolized as ‘the serpent’) as these events unfolded, but I would like to pay particular attention to verse 20 in chapter 4 .
At this stage, Adam and Eve have already partaken of the fruit, and are in a discussion with God about what happened, and what will happen next. After a confession of the fruit eating incident, God tells each of the parties (Adam, Eve, and the serpent) some of the consequences that they will enjoy because of their choices. But for today, we’ll highlight his words to the serpent. God tells him:
“Because thou hast done this thou shalt be 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” …
I don’t think I’d ever wondered specifically about why the Lord would say this to the serpent, or what this consequence really means. Out of all the punishments and curses that he could give – God said that “dust shalt thou eat.” It seems like he could have said “nothing but old soggy asparagus shalt thou eat all the days of thy life”, and we would have known just how seriously bad that curse is.
When I was growing up, my dad used to use a related term all the time. “Eat my dust”. I always thought it meant if I ran faster than you, you would ‘eat my dust’. I assumed this meant that because I was running (or riding a bike or driving I guess) so quickly, and since my feet (or tires) were generating such power and force upon the road, it would somehow kick up dust in your face as you trailed me and you would ‘eat it’. Pretty simple imagery right? Perhaps this is what he meant for the serpent – that he would always be trailing Adam and his posterity, always chasing them, attempting to get ahead or even with them, and never quite catching up – eating their dust all the days of his life. Maybe that’s part of it, but I don’t think that’s all of it.
I have learned that dust or earth carried and should still carry the symbolic connotation of things temporal, wordly, or fleeting. This could mean that the serpent ‘eating’ dust is symbolic of him looking for and/or destroying or convincing those who are earthly minded or who have placed their trust in the things of this world. I don’t think God was necessarily cursing the serpent to a physical diet at all (he doesn’t have a body, so a physical diet curse would make little sense), I think this is a spiritual curse, and one that drives him absolutely crazy. One writer asked “is it the earth that we tread underfoot that the devil eats? No, it is the people who are earthly minded, sensual and proud, who love the earth and place all their hopes in it. They labor entirely for carnal advantages,… and think little or nothing of the salvation of their souls. People like these, then, the devil seeks.”1 And, in turn, that is what he is cursed to eat – all the days of his life. Sounds a whole lot like soggy asparagus to me….
If this is the case, it makes sense that part of this curse (eating dust) is the fact that he will then be relegated to spend eternity with this dust – like minded souls who love and look to ‘dust’ as the great goal of existence. We have all heard that you are what you eat, and If we think of people as food there is real food; food like fruits and vegetables and those that are ‘good’ and give life. The kind that is nutritious and fills you up and make you satisfied, and then we are left to review the opposite of good food (bad food), which we can call ‘dust’. Food that turns out contain no nutritional value at all, and just teases you with the promise of nutrition. This curse may essentially indicate that the serpent gets to spend all of eternity searching for and wishing he had fruit, but only eating dust. The ironic part of this is that the serpent is the one who makes promises to all of the dusty people that he has stores full of delicious fruits, but at the end of the day, all he ever has and all he ever gets is ‘dust’.
This makes me think of a guy sitting down at the table to enjoy a nice bowl of delicious marshmallow mateys or maybe Reese’s Puffs (we know how exciting this moment is), except when he pours the cereal into the bowl – dirt comes out. It looked just like regular cereal on the way out, but as soon as it leaves the bag or box it turns to dirt. He lowers his head, consigned to the fact that despite all his hopes and dreams and goals, and the awesome picture on the box, his bowl is just full of dust – again and again and again and again and again. Dry, dirty, cough inducing dust. Then he pours what he wishes was milk onto his cereal and is humiliated again that it’s just more dust. Not even water to make mud. Just more dust.
In the end, the serpent was cursed by God to receive the exact same reward that he offers to all of his followers. Dust – and broken dreams.
1 – The ideas in this paragraph are found in Alonzo Gaskill’s book The Savior and the Serpent, Doctrines of the fall, pg. 205-208.