The Notion of Authority in God’s Created Order
April 02, 2022 by: Greg Gilbert
How God Set It Up
Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Gen. 2:19–20)
Have you ever thought about why this odd little story is included in Scripture? Obviously, it shows Adam beyond any doubt that none of the other creatures God created would make a good wife for him. You can imagine Adam’s dismay as the last animal walked by and Adam said, “Zebra. Yeah, that’s not going to work either, but I do admire your creativity, Lord!”
But there’s another reason Moses records Adam naming the animals. By doing so, Adam
exercised the authority God had given him over all creatures (1:28). Even in modern culture, we recognize that naming something is an act of authority. When parents name their children, they’re showing their authority over them. When some people name their cars—my wife once named hers “Jellybean”—that’s an act of authority, in that case derived from ownership. Anyway, you get the point. When Adam named the animals, he acted as their king. He carried out the authority and dominion God had given him over the cosmos and its inhabitants.
But look at what happens next:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:21–23)
Adam names Eve. Of course, that doesn’t put Eve on the same level as animals. Genesis 1:26–27 says at least four times that she, just like Adam, was made in the image and likeness of God. What’s more, the phrase “have dominion” in Genesis 1:28 is in the plural, applied to both the man and the woman. Yet even as Adam and Eve both rule over the cosmos as king and queen, God still institutes even within their marriage relationship a structure of authority. Adam is given the responsibility of holding loving authority over his wife, Eve.
Do you see what God did in these early chapters of Genesis? He designed a beautiful
framework of royal authority throughout his cosmos. Adam and Eve exercise godly dominion over the animals, while within their relationship Adam reflects God’s divine character as he holds authority over his wife. Ruling over it all is the High King of the cosmos, God Himself.
Authority often strikes people as an inherently negative, abusive, or tyrannical concept. That’s understandable, given how sinful human beings have abused it throughout history. But authority isn’t inherently bad, and it isn’t incidental to Genesis nor is it an imposed or invented idea. In fact, authority is integral to God’s created order, and when his work of creation was completed, the structure of authority he’d established in the world was good and beautiful.
Which explains why Satan would stop at nothing to destroy it.
How Satan Took It Down
Before long, everything goes sideways. You’re probably familiar with the story, but I think it’s worth taking another look at it. Here’s how Moses records what happened:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen. 3:1–6)
Some folks are troubled by this story, suggesting that the punishment God doles out—death—just doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit, and now they have to die for it? Sure, they disobeyed God, but why did he make such a nit-picky rule in the first place?
But Adam and Eve did more than disobey a nit-picky rule; they rebelled against God. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolized that their rule over the cosmos was limited, that there was a higher crown and a greater throne than their own. So when they ate that fruit, they weren’t just committing a little sin; they were throwing off God’s authority, declaring independence from him. They were joining Satan in his revolution against heaven. They were declaring war against God.
But it gets worse.
Adam and Eve did more than disobey a nit-picky rule; they rebelled against God.
Have you ever wondered why Satan tempted Eve instead of Adam? Paul mentions this in 1 Timothy 2:12–14. Through the centuries, people have given a lot of frankly stupid answers to that question: “Women are more gullible than men, so Satan thought he had a better chance with her than with Adam.” “Women are seductresses, so Satan thought he could get Eve to seduce Adam.” The right answer, though, is that Satan was never interested in just getting Adam alone to commit a little sin against God. He wanted to upend the entire structure of authority that God had established in the world. He wanted the woman to convince the man to rebel against God.
Even more, have you ever wondered why Satan came to Eve as an animal? Why not appear to her as another human being, or as an angel of light? Again, Satan’s aim wasn’t just to get Adam and Eve to sin but to disrupt and destroy the entire structure of authority God created. He wanted to cause a chain reaction of rebellion throughout the cosmos. Satan’s plan was for an animal to convince the woman to convince the man to declare war against God.
And for that matter, why a serpent? Why didn’t Satan come to Eve as something . . . better? Surely she’d have been more impressed by an elephant or a horse or something. Once again, we find the answer when we understand Satan’s strategy. He came as a serpent because, at least symbolically speaking, the serpent is the lowest of the animals. So the dominoes of rebellion fall upward, from the very bottom to the very top. The plan was comprehensive and diabolical, maximizing Satan’s ability to mock God when it was done. It wasn’t just any animal, but the lowest of the animals that would convince the woman to convince the man to rebel against God.
Do you see the point of all this? Sin isn’t just “doing wrong things.” Sin is rebellion against God. It’s overturning God’s very design for the created order. It’s a declaration of war against the King of the Universe. So it’s not surprising that the penalty demanded for sin is death. No great king or just law would demand anything less for rebels.
More to the point, God built authority into creation from the beginning, and Satan’s strategy—his plan for maximizing the humiliation he wanted to inflict on God—was to tear down those good and beautiful structures of authority. Do you realize the importance of this? It’s nothing short of profound: to tear down good, God-ordained authority is to join Satan in his rebellion against God; it’s to do serpent-like work.