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.