By David Kowalski
As anyone who has dieted or tried to change a bad habit can testify, tangible change in our lifestyle can be difficult. I have found that such change always involves an answer to the question, “What are you looking at?” I recently read a related and thought provoking observation by Dr. Stanley Horton regarding the narrative of Eve’s looking at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 3:6, which is translated in the ESV as follows:
“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…”
Dr. Horton notes, “The woman did not not immediately respond. The Hebrew indicates she began to look and kept looking. As she contemplated the tree and its fruit, it looked good for food” 1 H. C. Leupold concurs with Horton’s interpretation, saying that the woman was “entirely engrossed in the contemplation” of the tree before her. 2
Indeed, by itself, the Hebrew word ra’ah which is translated as “see” in this passage has a variety of uses beyond merely noticing something, and can be used to denote intently gazing in an approving manner. It was in this sense that the OT prophets were said to be “seers” of God’s communication.
Reading Dr. Horton’s comments I could not help but think of Lot’s wife who “looked back” (Genesis 19:26) at Sodom and perished in the destruction of that city. The word for her looking (nabat) generally carries an even stronger connotation than Eve’s “seeing” (ra’ah), frequently indicating an intensity of looking that involves one’s regarding the object with pleasure.
The context of the passage within which this looking occurs also indicates that Lot’s wife ignored the warning to flee and not to “look back and stop anywhere” (Genesis 19:27). Jesus’ call for us to “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32) likewise shows us that her looking was more than an innocent noticing. It was an intent, backward gaze that caused her to stop fleeing from the destruction to come.
Before sin ever manifests in the actions it first occupies the mind and heart. The longer we pause and let sin occupy a place within the more likely it is to make its way into our behavior.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” — James 1:14-15 ESV
The battle for godliness is won or lost within. The outward acts subsequently show what has already conquered our hearts and minds.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” — Proverbs 4:23 ESV
Upon what is our inward gaze fixed? What are we dwelling on and contemplating? Just what is it that we are looking at? The answer to this question will determine whether or not we eat forbidden fruit or perish in the destruction to come. Let us be “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
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