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’?” 2 And 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, lest you die.’ ” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 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.” 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. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. [NASB ‘77]
Everything that is wrong in the world has its origin in this text. Everything. From the smallest criticism or tiniest anxiety to holocaust, genocide and suicide bombers, they all exist because of the events of Genesis 3. Senseless death, random violence, rebellious kids, large and small trials and disappointments are all part of life because of the choices two humans make in the Garden of Eden. Thus the story is important for us to understand. Important because of the almost incomprehensible impact it has on the world but also because of the pattern it sets for the rest of human history. Genesis 3 in many ways is a microcosm of all temptation and sin that follow it. God, Satan, man and woman all establish in the garden how they will interact throughout the remainder of time. Nothing in our lives is unaffected by Genesis 3 and so much about our relationship to God and others is explained by it.
Before studying the chapter it pays to review exactly what God commanded Adam about the tree in the middle of the garden. When God placed man in Eden – this is before He created woman – He told him, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you that you eat from it you shall surely die” (2:16-17).
The first thing to notice about the command is that it begins with a positive. The man can eat and eat freely from any tree in the garden except for one. He does not have to limit his enjoyment of any other tree. Including, by the way, the tree of life. God effectively tells him, “Enjoy the garden. Live it up. Eat of everything I have made for you and enjoy it to the full.”
The prohibition though is pretty hardcore. God says in no uncertain terms that not only is the fruit of the one tree prohibited, but breaking the prohibition is a capital crime. Eat from the tree and die. He does not mince words and does not leave a lot of room for misunderstanding. And – as we pointed out when we studied these verses – He names the tree so it is fairly apparent what it does. It is not a complete mystery to the man what is involved.
It is interesting, however, to notice something else about the command. God does not explain it. He does not say why eating from the tree is bad. He also does not explain all the ramifications of disobedience. He could have said, “You will know good and evil in a way that will shame you and take you away from my loving wisdom, and the rest of human history will be afflicted with infinite misery and pain.” But He does not. He simply says to not eat from the tree under penalty of death.
That God does not explain why the tree is off limits goes to the essence of obedience. God wants man to both obey and trust (the order will get switched to trust and obey later to make the song work). He asks man to trust Him that He knows better than man what is good and what is not. If He explains everything and lays out all the ramifications then man may obey strictly to avoid the cost of disobedience. And that takes trust – and love – out of the equation. God wants obedience based on man’s trust that God loves him and would not keep from him anything that is good. God effectively says to man, “Trust Me and live.” The other side to this, then, is “Doubt Me and die.” This goes to the heart of the serpent’s temptation later.
The inference of God’s commands in vv.16-17 is that God alone knows what is good for man and that God alone knows what is not good for him. To enjoy the “good” man must trust God and obey Him. If man disobeys, he will have to decide for himself what is good and what is not good. While to modern man such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen him. Only God knows what is good for man. Only God can know what is good. (John H. Sailhammer, Genesis; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 45.)
The choice before Adam is the same choice God will lay out for the people of Israel hundreds of years later right as they are set to enter the Promised Land. Moses will say to them, “See I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Notice the similarity – choose life by loving and obeying God or choose death by mistrusting Him and disobeying. It is noteworthy that shortly before this charge to Israel God shows His heart as to how He hopes they will choose – “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut 5:29). God longs for the man and woman to live trusting, loving, and obedient lives in the garden with Him forever – they and their descendants.
Moses begins the story in a very Mosaic way. He introduces a new character with no explanation. He simply says a creature called the serpent is more crafty than any other wild animal and shows up in the garden and begins a conversation with the woman. Here is what he does not explain:
- How much time has passed since the sixth day of creation? Have Adam and Eve lived long in the garden at this point?
- Where does the serpent come from? Is this his first time in the garden? Does the fact that he is a wild animal (beast of the field) mean that he is unfamiliar to Eve? Is he a snake as we picture a snake today?
- Is it normal that an animal can talk? Is Eve surprised when the serpent addresses her?
- How is it that the serpent is evil? Has Satan entered into him? Is the serpent Satan himself?
- How is it that Satan is evil? When did he come on the scene and when did he become opposed to God? How is there already evil in creation? (see Ezek 28:1-19, Is 14:12-14)
- What makes the serpent crafty? Is this a characteristic even apart from the evil that now is a part of him? How can an animal be crafty?
Ultimately there are no answers to these questions. All we can gather from the story is that the serpent was created by God so he apparently truly is an animal and that somehow he is crafty. His craftiness is contrasted with the man and woman’s nakedness (2:25 – the Hebrew words for naked and crafty have similar sounds). Apparently it is not important to Moses to explain any background or setting. He wants to explain man’s fall and set the stage for God’s redemption. Anything else is unnecessary. That being the case, it makes no sense to spend much time on it in this study.
The serpent begins his discussion with the woman with a question expressing his incredulousness over God’s unreasonableness. The sense of what he says is as follows: “Did God seriously tell you that you cannot eat from any tree in the garden??” or “So God actually said you cannot eat from any tree in the garden – are you kidding me??” He wants to not only misstate and exaggerate what God said, he wants to plant the seed that God is authoritarian and selfish. [Interesting that Satan has apparently been watching the garden and knows what has occurred – we should never doubt the enemy’s presence and activity in the world.]
The woman tries to correct the serpent’s misstatement. She repeats what God said – remember that God did not actually say it to her – but actually misstates it slightly herself. She says accurately that they may eat of any tree in the garden except for the one in the middle, and if they eat from it they will die. But she adds that if they even touch it they will die – something that God did not say. She slightly skews God’s command to make it more restrictive than it actually is. She is right where the serpent wants her.
The serpent responds with convoluted half-truths and outright lies. He comes back quickly and forcefully – “You surely shall not die!” “God is lying to you!” He tells her that the only reason God does not want them to eat from the tree is that it will make them like God, knowing good and evil. “God is lying to you and keeping something good from you to protect His high position.” The serpent paints a God who is selfish, petty and unloving.
With this line of discussion the serpent gets the woman to focus on the one tree she cannot eat from rather than on the innumerable trees she can. She is in PARADISE and yet she now feels like there is something she is missing. It does not matter that everything is perfect and that ANY tree – including the tree of life – is hers for the taking other than the one. None of that matters. What matters is what she does NOT have.
This is what the Enemy always does. He wants us to refocus. Take our eyes off God and look at ourselves. Take our eyes off eternity and focus on this life. Take our eyes off the gospel and focus on this world. Change our focus away from all we have in God and look instead at what we do not have in this life. Walk by sight and not by faith. And paint it as a missed opportunity if we do not give in. “If you don’t take advantage of this you’ll miss out! If you don’t act now you’ll miss an opportunity that won’t come again!”
What the serpent essentially says is, “This is better than obedience, this is better than what God has for you. God wants to hold you down, he wants to take away your joy. This is where you find real joy – this is real satisfaction and happiness.” This is what temptation always claims. “This is better than what God has. You cannot trust God to have your best interests in mind (the opposite of 2:16-17). You need to act to find real happiness because God will not bring it to you. God is a cosmic killjoy – you have to do something to find the real fun.”
And the ultimate outworking of the claim is this – “You can be God.” What does the serpent tell the woman? He says the reason God does not want them to eat the fruit is that it will make them like God (ironic that the woman – unlike the serpent – is already made in God’s image). He promises her that she will become like God if she gives in. And this is what he still promises today. At the heart of every temptation is the offer to put ourselves in the place of God. What is the first commandment and the basis for the other nine? You shall have no other gods before me. Why is that first? Because to break one of the other nine we first have to break number one. We decide that we are more important than God and so we disobey. We worship another god – ultimately our self – and thus determine that we will obey our god rather than THE God. So every temptation to worry, to gossip, to criticize, to lust, to lie, steal or murder all comes down to the offer to put ourselves in God’s place – to worship another god.
Knowing that – watching how it works in Genesis 3 – should help us as we face the same temptation and the same enemy. The tempter is still trying to change our focus away from the promises of God and to our needs and our desires and our life’s perceived shortcomings. He still questions whether we can really trust God. And he still offers us the chance to be in God’s place. It is the same thing he offered Jesus in the wilderness. So every time we feel the tug to do what feels good or sounds good or looks good apart from God we should remember the serpent and the woman. We are not God. We do not want to be God. And we do not want to call into question what He promises us. But if we give in to temptation we do all of the above. Trust and obey and live. Doubt and disobey and die.
One other angle on the temptation and the tempter to consider. The serpent is going to be successful here. He is going to get the woman to sin and bring along the man. And he is going to do it in Eden. That being the case, do we really want to take on an enemy who can successfully tempt two humans who have personal knowledge of God and live in a perfect garden specifically made for them and who are completely unstained by sin? Does it make sense to get close to temptation that comes from someone that crafty? Yes the Bible tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7), but that does not argue for getting close to the temptations he brings. We are foolish to think we can play with temptation or get close to the enemy and come out OK. There is a reason Jesus taught His disciples to pray for protection from temptation and the evil one (Matt 6:13). If we sense temptation and do not immediately pray, we are fools.
Nothing is said in the text about where in the garden this discussion takes place. At this point, however, they are obviously by the forbidden tree. Whether they have been there all the time or have just moved to its location – the woman’s reply about the tree which is in the middle of the garden made it sound as if they were not by it – is unclear. Perhaps they have been within sight of it the whole time.
Regardless of how they got there, the woman now begins to really look at the tree (interesting that the text says she looks at the tree instead of its fruit) and notices three things. It is good for food. It is a delight to the eyes. And it is desirable to make one wise. Everything the serpent said seems to be right on the money. It looks good, it must taste good, and it will make her like God (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life – I Jn 2:16). And if he is right about those things then perhaps he is right about not really dying if she eats. As she looks all she can see is this tree. That she can eat of ANY other tree in the garden does not matter. This tree is the one that is most desirable. THIS tree will give her what she does not have. Here is the essence of covetousness. It is the attitude that says I need something I do not now have in order to be happy. (Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17; The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, 190.)
The first part of verse 6 shows that she is already gone. Once she pays this much attention to the forbidden fruit she stands no chance of resisting. Temptation that is mulled over and examined and evaluated is temptation that is given in to. No one escapes who decides to fill their eyes with the delights of sin.
The woman takes the fruit and eats. And she then gives to her husband who is with her and he eats. The serpent says nothing but presumably watches them both and rejoices.
The end of verse 6 is the first mention of the man. Notice that it says he is with her. This could mean simply that he is with her in the garden and she finds him and gives him the fruit. But two things in the text should be noted. First, in the serpent’s conversation with the woman he uses the plural form of ‘you’ throughout (in Hebrew). Second, in verse 7 it says that the eyes of both the man and the woman are opened at seemingly the same time. It could be that the man has been with her the whole time and has witnessed the conversation. If this is the case, then it is a shocking abdication of his leadership role to stand by passively during the conversation and do nothing when she decides to take the fruit.
As soon as both of them eat, their eyes are opened. They know what evil is and they know how it contrasts with good. They know this in a way they did not know before (there was not a sense of good and evil because they lived in a creation that was only good – they followed what God said and all was good – they were not faced with a contrast between the two because only one existed). There is some truth to what the serpent said – which God will reinforce later in the chapter – but what he did not say was that along with this knowledge come shame and mistrust and fear. They have known only intimacy and trust to this point. But that is suddenly and totally gone. And as they look at each other and look at themselves – and there is a huge consciousness of self that was not there before – they are ashamed and frightened. They understand for the first time that they are naked and the feeling of vulnerability is overwhelming.
To address their vulnerability and shame they sew fig leaves together to make loin coverings. They cover their nakedness from each other. They then hear God walking in the garden. When they hear God they immediately hide from Him. Ironically, they hide among the trees. So in the immediate aftermath of their sin they conceal themselves from each other and hide from God. Sadly, they ate the fruit so they could be more like God but now they are scared to be in His presence.
This is what sin ALWAYS does. ALWAYS. Sin causes us to hide. Sin causes us to cover up and isolate ourselves. We have to hide what we have done and who we are. We cannot fellowship honestly and freely with others or with God. We have an overwhelming sense of ourselves and our vulnerability before others and God. Temptation changes our focus from God to ourselves and our needs. Sin focuses us on ourselves and our guilt and makes self-preservation the ultimate goal.
The man and woman are now filled with a sense of regret that has to be overwhelming. Everything about their lives and how they think and how they see each other and how they see themselves and see God has changed. NOTHING is like it was. Nothing will ever be like it was. They likely know they just ruined paradise and are now subject to the penalty laid out for them by God. Where there was loving intimacy with each other and with God there is now only fear and shame and regret.
“Why did I listen to the serpent? Why didn’t I just walk away?” “Why didn’t I stop her?” “Oh to be able to go back in time and relive that situation and make another choice!” This is the regret of the sinner. The temptation was a lie and I see it so clearly now, so how could I have been so foolish as to give in to it? Oh that I could go back and make a different choice!
Thankfully the story does not end here. God is walking in the garden. And though that is a source of paralyzing fear to the man and the woman it also means God has not deserted them. He is coming and that means both divine reckoning and divine redemption.
Sin is the name given to that separation from God which begins with the abandonment of trust in God’s goodness and God’s love. (David J. Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-11; The Bible Speaks Today,87.)