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.


Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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