Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:3–5

Genesis 3:3–5
3 “but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’”  4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die,  5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.”
(NET Bible)

Satan’s Deception Continues

The line of those who want to oppose what God has said grows longer every day. Whether we speak of Richard Dawkins penning shallow atheism, scientists scorning any questions about Darwinian evolution (but not answering them), or those who try to remove God from civil society, many are touting their own views as more worthy than God’s. Even worse, some want to distort God into their own deceptive image.

How can we recognize challenges to God’s words and ways? What do we make of the exaltation of human knowledge above God’s revelation? Are we as a culture becoming more like God’s representatives or more like God’s enemies?

As we saw in Genesis 3:1, the serpent mockingly distorted God’s commands. The woman, having foolishly chosen to deal with him alone, tried to restate those commands in a more accurate way (Gen. 3:2). As one carefully examines her answer from start to finish, the conclusion is that it moves from small errors to larger ones. Gordon Wenham says: “These slight alterations to God’s remarks suggest that the woman has already moved slightly away from God toward the serpent’s attitudes. The creator’s generosity is not being given its full due.”[1]

In case you are finding it difficult to see what is wrong, we will examine two examples. First, the words “and you must not touch it” are pure invention on the woman’s part. It is not the woman’s place to add to what God has said; to do so shows an assertion of independence that will soon explode in full form.

A second error in the woman’s description of God’s commands is a softening of the consequence of disobedience. The NET Bible Notes point out that the woman uses a grammatical form that means “in order that you not die.” That is less emphatic than the intensive form used by God when he said “you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).[2] To take God’s warning lightly is like taking a group of toddlers for a walk down the narrow donkey-trail into the Grand Canyon.

The serpent next moves from provocative suggestion to outright rejection of God’s commands. The serpent opens with a direct attack on the words of God, and then he immediately offers a (false) motivation to support his position. Concerning Gen. 3:4, the NET Bible Notes say: “The response of the serpent [amounts to] a blatant negation equal to saying: ‘Not – you will surely die’ . . . . The serpent is a liar, denying that there is a penalty for sin (see John 8:44).”[3] More than that, he is directly contradicting God.

Though we will spend time analyzing the destructive nature of the serpent’s remarks, it is never our place as those created by the Lord God to entertain direct challenges to what he has said, as if they might contain something helpful. Ideas amounting to direct defiance of God must be totally rejected without stopping to analyze whether they might contain even a grain of truth. The serpent’s advice was pure poison; after taking it, one may live for a little while, but such an existence is neither pleasant nor lasting.

The woman, however, took the bait. We will see that tragedy another day.

The problem is not so much that the serpent lies about what will happen; the problem is what he does not say. What the serpent leaves out is that their eyes will be opened to a world of pain and suffering and that their children will have the same. He fails to affirm that they will indeed die in the course of time, a fate their children will share. Worse still, they will change from a life of closeness with God in Eden to one of separation from God in a world ruined by sin.

Then there is the matter of the man and woman becoming like one among the heavenly council (“divine beings”).[4] While there is some truth to that assertion by the serpent, some members of that council are headed for eternity in the lake of fire. Who is to say that the man and woman will not join them?

Such gross omissions and distortions are common tactics by the evil one. But he is more than a liar. Jesus said: “You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, emphasis added).

To what does the italicized portion of Jesus’ words refer? New Testament scholar Craig Keener says, “Most interpreters associate the devil’s start as a murderer with the fall of humanity, an association supported by its link with the devil’s role as deceiver.”[5]

The devil murdered the man and the woman in the way of a disguised Halloween figure distributing candy-coated poison to the unwary. You must understand that this murderer is still at large!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 73.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 3:3.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 3:4.

[4] See the NET Bible Notes on Gen. 3:5 for a more detailed discussion of the interpretational options; the heavenly council is their choice.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 760.


Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:1–2

Genesis 3:1–2
1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard;”
(NET Bible)

Off to a Bad Start

Satan’s question “Is it really true that God said . . .?” has vexed humanity down to this very day. Satan took on a poorly informed opponent and dealt humanity a mortal blow. His servants today question whether the great story of God redeeming humanity through Jesus Christ might simply be a story told by those who want to hold religious power over others.

How do we know what is true? If we pick the wrong answer to that question, how serious will the consequences be?

The literary creativity in Genesis is great, and nowhere more so than in Genesis 3:1. In the previous verse, Genesis 2:25, the word for “naked” is ‘arom, and in Genesis 3:1 the word for “shrewd” is ‘arom. Yes, the two words are spelled the same and sound identical, a situation that sometimes occurs in English. Gordon Wenham cleverly reproduces this play on words in English: “They [the man and his wife] will seek themselves to be shrewd (cf. 3:6) but will discover that they are ‘nude’ (3:7, 10).”[1]

Before going further into the details, let us take a moment to review a few points. First, the man was explicitly given the duty to guard the garden (Gen. 2:15). Yet, here is a dire threat confronting his mate! A great deal of blame has been placed on the woman in these events, but one must wonder whether the failure was shared. Second, consider that when the serpent approaches, the woman is alone. Did not God say that being alone was “not good” (Gen. 2:18)? While we are not given full details of this scene, what we do see is disturbing.

While we are making general observations, consider that in Gen. 1:2 we found the earth in a negative condition, a dark and formless waste of water. Now we see that evil incarnate has invaded Eden in the form of the serpent. Genesis says nothing about the origin of evil, but its fell presence is seen all too clearly. In spite of this danger, no harm need come to the man and woman if only they obey what God has said.

The serpent in Eden was not the same as those we have today. In time we will see that the serpent currently crawls on the ground as a curse from God beyond the curse that has fallen on all of creation due to sin (Gen. 3:14). Perhaps the serpent was formerly a possessor of the attractiveness that draws interest; think how we react to a puppy or the graceful strength of a dolphin. We simply do not know, so we should not assume too much about the world before sin ruined it.

The choice of the word “shrewd” (Hebrew: ‘arom) to describe the serpent may be because a similar word means “to practice divination,” a distinctly demonic activity that God forbids (Deut. 18:10). The word ‘arom refers to a characteristic that can be either a virtue or a vice. Wenham says, “On the one hand it is a virtue the wise should cultivate (Prov. 12:16; 13:16), but misused it becomes wiliness and guile (Job 5:12; 15:5; cf. Exod. 21:14; Josh. 9:4).”[2] Satan always distorts a virtue into a vice.

The first voice to speak to humanity other than God’s is that of the serpent. Satan’s strategy of deception against humanity begins in the most unlikely place, Eden. Victor Hamilton offers a slightly different translation to bring out the fact that the serpent’s “first words should not be construed as a question but as an expression of [feigned] shock and surprise.”[3]

Genesis 3:1b (Hamilton) says: “Indeed! To think that God said you are not to eat of any tree of the garden!”[4] This provocative comment is designed to engage the woman and start a conversation. It works! But a moment’s reflection leads to questions. Wenham says: “But how, the narrator expects us to ask, did the snake know anything about God’s command? If he heard that command, why has he so grossly distorted it?”[5]

Eve does not express any questions or show any sense of danger. After the narrator’s dramatic declaration that the man and woman are “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, ESV), we find the woman taking action independent of her mate. She begins (Genesis 3:2) by approximately expressing the general rule God had given the man (Gen. 2:16), but we will see tomorrow that she had a less accurate grasp of the one, specific exception (Gen. 2:17).

The Lord God had given Adam the truth about the garden, but, by failing to know it accurately, the woman quickly moved toward trouble. Ignorance was not bliss in Eden.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 72.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 72.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 188.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 186.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 73.