It was a beautiful wedding! Your little sister brought a young man home from college – and he was a football and track star. The two looked very much in love, so it was no surprise when he asked her to be his wife. You were excited because she seemed truly happy – maybe the happiest you had ever seen her!
That was a decade ago…. Over the ten years, none of you recognized that he had been cheating on her in a series of sneaky relationships. One day she picked up his cell phone, read some texts, and it felt as if her world was reduced to a pile of rubble. Confronted, he stormed out of the house muttering something inane about her invading his privacy, but did not even acknowledge her pain over the substance of the texts.
A few months later, this man showed up at your house and sat down on your patio lamenting what he had done. He sobbed and seemed broken over that reality that he lost his wife. Stop. Listen closely to his words…If you aren’t distracted by his tears, you will hear his words. He is broken because he now has to cook his own meals. His heart is heavy over the reality that his life is now made up of laundry, alimony payments, child support, and embarrassment in front of many people in his life. How do you feel? Honestly, you are deeply offended by his tears. You are indignant that your dear sister has been crushed, your family has been burdened and you don’t hear him CARING about the effect his choices had on innocent people. His remorse isn’t about the relationship with his wife. He hurts over the consequences of his sin because they brought HIM discomfort and guilt.
One pastor I know said, “Many people come into my office weeping because of the consequences of sin, but few weep because of the sin itself. They have far more concern about the discomfort they feel in life than they do over the deep offense against the living God they have made in attitudes and choices that show unbelief.”
If we are honest, most of us would admit we are often wounded by the consequences of our sinful choices, but are rarely broken over the sin itself.
Much repentance in our life has been more motivated by pain of consequence rather than an overwhelming sense of how greatly we have offended God’s holiness. We act like we sinned against inanimate “principles” when we sinned against a very personal Creator. Let’s talk about how we got to this state…
This is our fourth “dip” into the Scripture in this study of Genesis. For three of them (after the Prologue in 1:1-2:3), we have been searching intently for “What went wrong?” In a world created by a perfect God, we live with pain and problems. We haven’t rushed in our study, because this isn’t that kind of subject you run past. Deep troubles and pains take careful excavation to uncover the foundation.
So far, we discovered two reasons we face trouble:
• First, we noted that because of God’s highest ethic – that of love – man was created with the ability to choose to follow God or NOT. That choice was essential because love cannot be forced (or it is not truly love). As a result, the very design of man left the back door open to the temptation to fall away from God. That wasn’t a flaw in the design; it served the Author to tell His story.
• Second, we carefully uncovered the fact that the enemy exploited the designated purposes for both men and women in the creation narrative in the garden.
Truthfully, these insights lead us toward the moment of sin’s introduction. The present darkness of our world came from an historical past we will uncover today in Genesis 3. As we study the words of the text, look for this truth:
Key Principle: Every facet of life was disastrously infected by the insertion of sin into a world not designed to operate well after that incursion.
It is important to note that while man willfully chose to do wrong, he had no real idea of the extent of the cataclysm that would result from his actions. He was warned, but the warning had no context he could fully grasp. That doesn’t excuse the choice – but it explains one aspect of why the results seemed surprising to him.
Ultimately, he chose to mutiny for two core reasons:
• First, man didn’t truly believe that God’s Word was accurate.
• Second, man didn’t believe God’s will was paramount to his life.
The truth is: most people in our world still think like Adam and Eve. They trade what they truly want for what they want RIGHT NOW. They believe pleasing God is a good thing, unless it gets in the way of pleasing SELF.
Genesis 3 unwinds the perfection of the Garden of Eden in three parts:
• First, Genesis 3:1-7 tells of the conversation between Eve and the serpent.
• Second, Genesis 3:8-21 explains the curse because of sin.
• Third, Genesis 3:22-24 revealed man’s casting from the Garden into the fallen world.
The Conversation with the Serpent (3:1-7)
In this lesson, I want to focus ONLY on the first part of the chapter in Genesis 3:1-7. The conversation between Eve and the serpent is the single passage that describes the temptation process at its core.
Go back to the place where mutiny came into the human story, and death began its long reign in our world… Go back to Genesis 3. It opens with the story of a shadowy figure walking low in the garden:
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
These words begin the twenty-four verses in Genesis 3 that are among the hardest to read in the entire Bible. They aren’t difficult in verbiage, but in even a glancing observation of the passage, this is the story of an explosion and destruction of something beautiful. Genesis 2 ended with two unashamed people tending God’s wondrous garden, taking walks with God in the cool of the day, and living with one another in harmony, without shame or struggle. As Genesis 3 opens, a serpent walks calmly into the garden and will leave nothing behind but total scorched earth when he is done his work. Look at Genesis 3:1 and note his description:
First, he came in the form of the most “crafty” animal in the land.
The text suggests the animal that approached was one known to man as “from the field,” but doesn’t specify if the speech of the animal should denote a “possession” of the animal by God’s enemy, or if some animals in the garden originally had a range of communication larger than they had after the Fall. The FACT the animal spoke didn’t seem to bother Adam or Eve. Perhaps they were still quite unfamiliar with many of the animals beyond a brief encounter where Adam “named” them. On the other hand, animals may have had greater communication skills at Creation than after “the Fall.” I don’t have a “Dr. Doolittle” complex about talking animals, but we just don’t know for sure.
Be open to another thought, if you can. Before sin, the line between the spiritual world and the physical world hadn’t yet been drastically cut. Let me say it this way: It may seem amazing to watch animals at a zoo, but imagine angelic beings wandering around in the beginning at Eden. They may well have been seen as part of the wondrous things God made. The break between material and spiritual may have come at the Fall, not before.
What I can see in the text is this: Adam and Eve perceived the talking serpent as acceptable.
At his introduction in Genesis 3, the serpent leaves us questioning: “Who or what was this ‘crafty animal?’”
Think of it this way: If you were in the Garden, everything you could see was good. The place was filled with wonder and color and all manner of creation to behold – and you were NEW to the place. Some of the creations could fly over your head into the sky. Others walked slowly, lumbering along the earth. Some had high necks and could eat from trees while others walked low to the ground. You saw them all and were excited by each variation.
Along the ground walked a serpent. The term for serpent (Heb: “nachash”) is the name used later for a reptile. Though artists often picture a snake wound around a tree, we don’t really know if that’s what they saw. The word for the serpents was “low to the ground” until the penalty God placed in Genesis 3:14 to slither on the ground. It appears the animal may have begun with short legs originally. Interestingly, the word nachash wasn’t a reference to appearance, but relates to the verb “to hiss,” and is associated with sounds that a reptile makes. That isn’t the only Hebrew term for a snake. The other word referring to reptiles, tannin seems to be used interchangeably (as in Moses and Aaron in Pharaoh’s court in Exodus 7:9-15).
Note carefully this serpent was compared to other animals in the field. It “was more crafty than any beast of the field,” which suggests this animal belonged in the animal kingdom. This doesn’t seem to be a “one off” singular kind of creation, a unique animal.
Take a look at that word “crafty” for a moment. It offers us a hint.
The term “crafty” (Hebrew “aw-room”) which is a common term for “shrewd” or even “discerning” and:
• It is used in Job for those who plot and deceive (Job 5:2, 15:5).
• It is used in Proverbs to denote someone who is difficult to “read” by face, particularly when insulted (their look doesn’t show how they feel – Proverbs 12:16, 23).
Something seems strange about that description on its face. The idea of the term is one who cannot be read easily, but keeps his intentions to himself. Remember: it is characteristic for a reptile to be able to look at peace even when it is about to strike. I suspect that is the true reason the enemy took its form.
How do I know the enemy took the form of this animal? It is very likely this wasn’t simply an inhabitant of the garden, but a mock materialization of the enemy of God in a form that mimicked a known animal. Later Scripture revealed the fallen Lucifer, Satan, as a serpent of deception. Revelation 12 called him the serpent that deceived the world. Revelation 20:2 reminds us Satan is the “serpent of old.” 2 Corinthians 11:3 made clear that Satan was, in fact, “the serpent who deceived Eve by his craftiness.” 2 Timothy 2:13 made clear the deception was physical, literal and historical.
With that in mind, think about the cunning craftiness of the enemy. He doesn’t show you where you are going to end up if you follow him. He attracts you and beckons to your desire, but has no interest in you at all. He wants what he wants from you…rebellion and mutiny and self-serving behavior.
Second, (in keeping with his description) his opening line was crafted to deceive.
Read the words again:
Genesis 3:1b … And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
It is clear reading the account the serpent had no real question about what God did or didn’t say. This was a misleading question designed to deceive, not gain insight. Consider for a moment what that shows about the difference between God’s interactions with man, and Satan’s interaction:
• God started the story by SHARING with man all that He made. Adam had God’s instruction concerning what would happen if the path of disobedience was followed. God hid nothing and disclosed the end at the beginning. It is not God’s nature to HIDE or OBSCURE His intentions.
• Conversely, note how the enemy of God BLOCKED man from seeing where he wanted things to go in their time together. He essentially “masked” the nature of his desires in the opening line of his appearance before men.
Deception thrives in an environment where no one can easily connect the negative outcomes of succumbing to current temptations.
If you keep reading, you will notice the woman engaged the serpent as if more information was what was needed:
By Genesis 3:2, we have the first words of the woman found in Scripture. Not surprisingly, they were words of helpful explanation:
Genesis 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”
By design, Eve was a helpful person. She was brought into the scene to add what was missing from her husband.
• Adam was made to oversee organization and administration of the garden, to do the practical work of maintaining both the garden and his walk with God, and also to maintain an intimate relationship with Eve.
• For her part, Eve was to deliberately assist him in his labors of life, to love and connect with him and to (eventually) care for the blessings of the womb. HELPING was what she was designed to do. Being helpful was her natural state.
We made the point that although Eve had no way of knowing, additional information couldn’t help in this situation. The serpent wasn’t confused, he was deliberately deceptive. When one desires to manipulate and obfuscate, more information only offers more to twist. It took a moment, but the serpent couldn’t WAIT to stand in direct opposition to God’s word and oppose Him.
Eve left the door open in what she said: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” Some commentators attempt to suggest her reference was inaccurate, but that is not at all certain. Perhaps Adam offered more information to Eve that was not incorporated into the text. Perhaps God told them more in the cool of the Garden afternoon walks. What is clear is this: if Eve thought “death” would be immediate and if she thought it would look like her toppling to the ground clutching her heart, she was wrong.
God used the terminology of “death” to refer to the umbilical cord of free flowing connection between Him and man.
In the Bible, the physical death of the body is a mere symptom of “real” death – the forced separation between God and man because of man’s mutiny against God’s authority. When man walked unquestionably with God, there was no mutiny. As a result, there was unending intimacy and obvious transparency. When man chose sin, a break with God was immediate. That was the primary meaning of death. Yet, that caused a problem. If her perception was immediate physical death, it seemed untrue when she first touched the fruit of the tree. It wasn’t her eating of the fruit that was her first sin – it was the decision to reach for it. Sin is of the heart, not of the hands.
Satan focused Eve on the notion that touching the fruit wouldn’t kill her, as if God wasn’t telling the truth. Watch what he said:
Genesis 3:4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!”
The serpent was subtle until he had Eve’s attention. This serpent clearly hated God. He was angry and on a mission to foment mutiny and pull mankind down into iniquity.
Don’t let the familiar passage cause you to lose focus. In this simple story we can observe one of the enemy’s oldest and dearest tricks. Satan takes our PERCEPTION of something (especially if it is incomplete) and uses it to show how God’s Word about something is at least insufficient of at worst just plain wrong!”
Think of it this way: Eve touched the fruit on the tree (after what Satan said) and perhaps she thought to herself: “See! I am still breathing! It didn’t KILL me. I wonder why eating it will be any different!” One bite and the enemy effectively used deception and her misconception to help her rationalize open rebellion.
Let me offer a simple example:
Maybe you grew up in a Christian home and had family devotions where someone read:
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
Following that reading, your dear loving grandma taught you “as if” from the Word, “You know, God will never give you more than you can handle!” That misstatement became a “Bible truth” that you placed into your heart. It became a part of your faith. You believed that like you believe that Jesus died for you. After all, God is good and He wouldn’t throw you into troubles beyond your ability, would He? If He were a teacher, He would gauge what you could handle before any assignment, or He wouldn’t be a very good teacher, would He?
Then the car accident happened. Your little child was killed. You sat in a dark corner and angrily told God He lied. “This IS more than I can handle!” It just IS. You told lies, God, if you are even real!” You didn’t notice the Word didn’t promise what Grandma promised in Jesus’ name. You didn’t recognize the passage had to do with “escape hatches” when it came to temptation. Your misconception opened the door for Satan to drive you to open rebellion.
By the way, just so I don’t leave the door open let me be clear: God WILL “sign off” on MANY THINGS that are beyond your ability to handle without Him. Your need of God continually opens the door to His gracious supply. People who won’t be pushed won’t grow. People who cannot be broken will not be reconstructed by God’s good hand, period!
Look at the follow up ploy of the enemy:
Genesis 3:5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The opening of the verse is marinated in rebellion. When He said, “For” he was contradicting God’s claim and saying “The REAL REASON is…” Strip that down and all it means, all it CAN mean is this: “You cannot trust God! You cannot trust His Word. You cannot count on His goodness and you should suspect His intentions toward you. All the enemy said was absolutely true – but not about GOD. She should have applied all the suspicion to the serpent, and NONE toward her ever-good Creator.
Look at the promise Satan made: “You will be like God!” If you look back at the description of the fall of Satan, you will identify that was the chief desire HE HAD that led to his own rebellion.
In the poetry of Isaiah 14:13, the prophet recorded of Lucifer’s fall:
Isaiah 14:13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”
Some time before Lucifer made that choice of rebellion to unseat His Creator. He thought he could be like God. He thought God got where He is by some knowledge He acquired – a knowledge that could be duplicated or attained by Satan.
That isn’t what it takes to be GOD. Satan may be cunning, but he’s not omniscient, he’s not omnipotent, and he’s not omnipresent. He’s not immutable and he’s not sovereign. In fact, he’s not like God at all. He is as UNGOD as he possibly could be.
Yet, he knew that promise held an appeal.
Watch closely as Eve gazed at the forbidden. She knew what God said. She rehearsed it. The problem is, the thing she wanted NOW became more important than the thing she wanted MOST. Genesis recorded:
Genesis 3:6 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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
Look at the careful description of the first human temptation…
Eve “saw” (Hebrew: raw-aw’) it was “good for food” literally says she entertained the notion that the food was edible. But wait, God said it would KILL HER. Nothing is LESS GOOD for food than poison – and that is what God said this was to her. Remember, in temptation, we believe that we know what will be GOOD for us more than the God Who made us.
She observed it was a “delight to the eyes.” The term “delight” (tah-av-aw’) is sometimes translated desire, greed or lust. It is a word for “appetite” and “longing.” It is used in both a positive and negative sense, but always of a strong inner compulsion. Remember, often our desires don’t reveal what is best for us. Because we want it badly, doesn’t mean it will, in the end, be a good thing for us.
Look at the final phrase before she succumbed, where it recorded: “the tree was desirable to make one wise.” Eve reckoned acquisition of the fruit would improve her life beyond the counsel of God. Remember, the beginning of sin occurs when we believe God is not looking out for our best interest, so we have to attend to it ourselves. We sin because we have lost confidence in God’s intentions, and therefore in His Word.
Consider the wise words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little book “Temptation” where he shared:
“In our members there is a slumbering inclination toward desire, which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power, desire seizes mastery of the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is a sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, our love of fame and power, or greed for money…At this moment God is quite unreal to us. [Remember those words.] He loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real. The only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God… The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and will of a man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. …It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God…. Therefore the Bible teaches us in times of temptation in the flesh, there is one command: Flee! Flee fornication. Flee idolatry. Flee youthful lusts. Flee the lusts of the world. There is no resistance to Satan in lust other than flight. Every struggle against lust in one’s own strength is doomed to failure.”
Temptation, then, is focusing on self-interest. It is losing trust in God to fulfill your needs. It is fixating on the promise that something else can satisfy in a way your Creator simply cannot.
Succumbing to temptation killed Paradise. It killed Eve. It killed Adam. Thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story God told us.
Because of Jesus Christ, Paradise will be restored. That truth is our chief comfort in our currently sin-cursed world.
Before I leave the passage, let me close by answering a question that many have posed over the years I have been in ministry. In one form or another, people ask: “Is the Adam and Eve story to be understood literally?” A few years ago at a Youth Conference, I was confronted with this question by a professor in a public university.
In response, let us assume the view of the antagonist for a moment. Let’s assume the record of Adam and Eve are simple stories, not meant to be understood literally.
What would be the harm in such a view? Would our faith be adversely affected by removing this literal sense to the story?
Let me suggest our faith would be dramatically altered by citing the history as a mere fable or moral story. Let me even suggest that virtually every major doctrine of the Christian faith hangs on this story and its veracity!
For instance, if Adam was not a real man, a specific choice to mutiny against God did not enter the world through one man as Paul related to the Roman church in Romans 5:12 states. He wrote:
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
When and how did sin enter world, then? We have no answer. Since the Word’s account, repeated many places in the text, is found to be a myth – our faith offers no answer to the problem of sin, suffering, injustice and wrong.
Consider something more. If Romans 5:12 repeats a moral myth as though it were an event, how do what other parts of Scripture are simply stories that should be taken lightly?
Never take the eternal words of a Sovereign God with a “grain of salt.”
That was the essence of the first temptation: You don’t have to believe the Word of God.
Honestly, if we didn’t have rebel parents in Adam and Eve, how do we know that Satan himself isn’t supposed to be an “avatar of evil” like a “dark force” and not a person?
Chopping parts of the Bible off to make the story palatable to modernity plays directly into the hands of the enemy to remain unseen, doesn’t it?
If Adam wasn’t real, maybe Satan wasn’t real. Maybe sin is a general concept. Maybe Cain didn’t slay Abel. Maybe Jesus’ reference to “the beginning” and “the blood of Abel” was all just a way of teaching moral lessons based on made up details.
Here is the point: once parts of the Bible can be tossed aside, why should we believe anything is literal? Did Jesus come? Was He God in human skin? Did He die on the Cross? Why would He do so if sin wasn’t a specific violation as taught in the Word?
When Jesus referred to these events as history, was He naïve or even intentionally deceiving people?
To deny the literalness of Adam and Eve is to place oneself in opposition to Jesus and the apostle Paul. If one has the audacity to claim he is right and Jesus and Paul are wrong, then Jesus is a sinner, not God, and not the Savior; the apostle Paul is a false prophet; and the Bible is not inspired, inerrant, or trustworthy.
Every facet of life was disastrously infected by the introduction of sin into a world not designed to operate well after the assault.
It all started with a singular temptation: Don’t trust what God says. Don’t believe His Word. He doesn’t know how to care for you…Isn’t it ironic that so many dismiss the story, but claim allegiance to the God Who told the story?
What do YOU believe?
Eve’s problem was food. This wasn’t the last time in the Bible the enemy used this ploy. Go to the desert. Sit with a hungry Jesus surrounded by stone. The enemy said: “If you are the Son of God, make these stones bread.” Jesus wouldn’t do it.
Bread wasn’t wrong. Fulfilling perceived needs enticed by the enemy without seeking that fulfillment from His Father would have shown what Jesus thought was most important. Hunger was second to doing His Father’s will. Temptation is about what we come to believe is most important.