"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden?"'
"And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat from the trees in the garden, but God did say, "You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die."'
"'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
"Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves."
I think it's fair to say that this is one of the key chapters in the Bible. If we don't understand the Fall, we won't make much sense of our world as it is. We won't make much sense of evil and of suffering. We won't understand ourselves and why it is that we feel often we live in a war zone. We won't understand the work of Christ if we don't understand this chapter, nor will be understand the cross of Christ. Therefore, this is one of the key chapters in the Bible. It's where everything goes wrong and the rest of the Bible is about putting it right.
The Fall: Setting and Struggle
Now I want to talk about two things here. I want to talk about the setting first of all. And then we'll talk about the struggle, what this attack of Satan, this temptation, meant and how it unfolded.
Let me first talk about the setting then, and set the scene. Adam and Eve have been placed in the Garden of Eden and in the middle of the garden there were two trees. If I can backtrack to Chapter 2 and Verse 9, it says there in the second part of that verse:
"In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
One was designed to make life longer; the other was designed to make life shorter, because God had placed a prohibition on one of them in Verse 16 of Chapter 2:
"The LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'"
That was the tree that would make life shorter—"you will die." And then at the end of Chapter 3, when it refers again to the tree of life, it says in Verse 22, the second part of that verse, that they
"… must not be allowed to reach out and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
That was the tree designed to make life longer.
Now we have to understand these trees as being sacramental. By that I don't mean they did not exist but that they represent something much deeper than themselves. They weren't trees that had poison on the one hand; or some magic potion on the other, a bit like you might find in a fairy tale. Rather they are representative of something much deeper. The two things this made clear in the garden was that there will be an act that brings death and an act that brings life. And those two themes run through the rest of Scripture, as you know. These trees are representative of that.
After the Fall, God placed a guard on the Tree of Life to protect them from eating of it. And then that tree disappears from view, is never mentioned again until the very last chapter of the Bible and there we find in Revelation 22:14, the people have access to it:
"Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city."
That's all I am going to say about the Tree of Life.
Now why did God place these two trees there? Well, because Adam and Eve were not masters of the garden; they were tenants. You and I are not masters; we're tenants. And God placed boundaries—divine boundaries—within the garden that would keep them in submission to God and in dependence on God. That was the purpose.
And then into the garden came the serpent. Now it doesn't tell us who the serpent is. It does say it was one of the wild animals the LORD God had made. And in the first two chapters we've discovered about everything God has made—it is good. That was his verdict on everything: good, good, good, good—for five days. On the sixth day it was "very good." Now this is something God has made, is what it specifically says there in Verse 1. And this snake—of course, a snake is a snake—is clearly possessed by something evil.
We know in the New Testament that demons—evil spirits—can inhabit animals. There's that instance when a whole herd of pigs went wild under demonic control and threw themselves over a cliff, landed in the sea and were drowned. We have that incident. It is perfectly possible for Satan to take over an animal or a reptile.
But this is more likely to be more than just an evil spirit; this is likely to be the devil himself in disguise. We know that he can disguise himself. We're told he appears as an angel of light. That's a very beautiful, attractive appearance that he sometimes makes.
In the book of Revelation and Chapter 20 it describes Satan as
" … the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan."
And there his cover is blown as the ancient serpent, no doubt a reference back to this incident here. This is the devil in disguise.
Now Satan has not been introduced so far in the book of Genesis. The creation in the first two chapters has been about the creation of the natural world. There has been no reference to the supernatural world. And there is a supernatural world that we don't touch and engage with our eyes and our hands and our hearing and our sense of smell. It's beyond our senses. It's a world of angels and demons.
The King James says, "more subtle," the New American Standard says, "more crafty," the New King James says, "more cunning." All these words indicate that what you saw was not what you got. There was a cunning, crafty subtleness.
I don't know if you know very much about snakes. I have met and had a lot to do with a lot of snakes, especially when I lived in Africa. I fought quite a number. Four times I was actually attacked by snakes intent on biting me, and they were all venomous, intent on killing me. But I fought back and killed all of them, fortunately. And I fought a few others as well because we had a motto, "The only good snake is a dead snake."
I have broken the backs of snakes and I have crushed the heads of snakes. I put a bullet through the head of two snakes. I missed a few as well, but I got two. One that attacked me—I was working with a blowlamp, and the heat of the blowlamp in a workshop disturbed a snake I didn't know was hiding behind a piece of equipment. Suddenly this snake uncurled, rose up, neck flat (it was an Egyptian cobra) and came to attack me. All I had in my hand was the blowlamp, so with the blowlamp I just kept it focused on his head. I actually cooked his head and killed him that way. I'll tell you, I was relieved. I found a six-foot python in my kitchen one day, wrapped around a water tank—cold-water tank—to keep itself cool, in a cupboard. I opened up the cupboard and there was this python wrapped around so I quickly shut the cupboard—wasn't sure what to do! And then he came out and lay along my kitchen floor and he actually ate my cat.
Snakes are subtle, they lie low. They disguise themselves. You actually don't see snakes very often but there are lots of them around. I remember one day a lady on the farm was picking firewood and she went to break off a branch of a low-lying tree, and it actually was not a branch; it was a snake disguised as a branch, hooked by its tail on the tree and amazing muscular ability to hold itself looking like a branch. She tried to break it off and of course it attacked her and bit her. She died.
Interestingly, although this is clearly Satan in disguise, you know it's very interesting that in his subtlety he never puts her head above the parapet for another 356 chapters—I counted them this week. You never hear any mention of Satan again until 1 Chronicles Chapter 21 when it says,
"Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel."
In fact, he only comes into the open explicitly four times in the whole of the Old Testament. Here, in the Garden of Eden, though he is unnamed here but we know it's him; his fingerprints are all over it. Then when he tempted David to take that census. Then the book of Job he comes out and basks in the sun for a while because he gets quite a lot of mention there. And then later in the book of Zechariah when he stands accusing a man called Joshua before God. Although he only occurs four times—that is above the parapet—under the surface he is working his wicked, worming ways all the time.
In the New Testament we hear much more about him. We discover there that he is the prince of this world. Jesus said that. We discover he is the prince of the power of the air. Paul said that. We discover he is behind the powers of this dark world. Paul said that. We discover that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. John writes that in his first epistle. He is actually quite powerful. But here he appears as a snake. And I ask the question, why? If he is subtle, why does he appear as a snake?
Now I want to give you a suggestion as to why he appears as a serpent, as an animal. There is a hierarchy in the universe. God is supreme, God is sovereign, God is creator, God answers to nobody. He sits supreme in the universe. Under God, he has created angels. Then thirdly, he created human beings who are a little lower than the angels. And then there is the animal kingdom which is a little lower than man, because in Genesis 1:28 human beings were given the responsibility to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, everything that creeps along the ground, and so on.
Now here's Satan's subtle tactic, I suggest to you: he comes not as an angel with flashing, dazzling lights like the angels appeared in Bethlehem. Not as someone intimidating because whenever angels do appear in Scripture, nearly always they begin by saying, "Don't be afraid" because their very appearance would make for fear. He doesn't come in that form. He comes not as somebody above; he comes as somebody below, from the animal world.
Why is that of any significance? I'll tell you. Because we think that we can handle him. We think we can keep him down. We think we can control the limits to which he goes. So far—no further. We think we can keep the upper hand.
Have you found that to be true? That when temptation comes to you, you think, well, you know I can handle this. I can go so far. I don't need to go beyond that. This is not something intimidating, frightening, fearful, this is nothing which is going to scare the living daylights out of me. It is much more subtle than that. This is something I can handle. Do you ever feel that?
I talked to somebody not too long ago who had committed adultery, full of remorse, full of tears. He said, "I never, ever believed it would go like this. I never believed it would go this far."
So I said the obvious thing. "What did you believe?"
"I believed I was in control."
That's exactly what the devil would have you believe. You can go so far; it doesn't frighten you, it doesn't intimidate you because you are in control. That's why I suggest to you that he comes as an animal, comes as a reptile, comes as a serpent. And Eve is deluded by the fact that he is below her. That's the setting.
Let me talk then about the struggle. Having come that way—and of course it doesn't seem like a struggle at the time—the conversation seems casual, almost light-hearted, almost like a bit of banter. But it is a struggle afterwards when they are beaten and they are humiliated and they are ashamed and they are defeated and they are fearful.
God said to them, "Why are you afraid?" when he came in the garden later. They realized this casual conversation was actually the most crucial battle in which they would ever engage.
There are patterns of satanic activity that begin here in the garden. In the New Testament in 1 John Chapter 2 and Verse 16, John writes about these when he says,
"All that is in the world - the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is of the world."
That is the same letter where he says the whole world is under the control of the evil one. And now he says there are three things in the world that he controls that are going to get you—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are the three areas of vulnerability. He says, "Watch those areas." The lusts of the flesh are the natural appetites that are purely, completely legitimate in themselves, but which are exploited. Lust of the eyes is greed. The pride of life is the ego. We try to make ourselves something significant.
Most of the devil's attacks come along this line. Let me read to you in Genesis 3 Verse 6. In this incident here it says,
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food …"
That is the lust of the flesh—there's nothing wrong in eating food of course. She saw it was good for food—the lust of the flesh.
"It was pleasing to the eye,"
Well that's exactly how God had described it earlier in Chapter 2. The Garden was pleasing to the eye—nothing wrong with that.
" … and also desirable for gaining wisdom …"
Not it appeals to her own ego and to her pride, to be more and to know more than God has permitted me to know. The lust of the flesh—exploiting an appetite.
Now there were lots else in the garden; we can be sure of that. There were probably some bananas and strawberries; there were probably pears, probably apples. By the way, this isn't an apple tree; that is a bit of nonsense that people talk about. But there probably were some good apples there.
Why go for this tree? Should I tell you something? And it is my wife who told me this and she says this: that when your focus in any way becomes physical and material, everything is never enough. Eve and Adam had everything in the Garden of Eden. But when the focus was not God and the focus became things itself, everything was not enough.
Lucifer, created the most beautiful of all God's creation—everything was not enough when he focused on himself. "I will make myself like the most High God".
By the way, don't kid yourself that if you get so much more that it'll be enough; it won't be. Just understand that and then you won't be surprised. That's not where your focus needs to be.
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes—the attraction to what looked good. And boy do advertisers know the power of that! I drove down to the church the other day when I was preparing this—or after I had been working on this—and I decided to look at all the road holdings that I passed and all the advertising that I saw and all appealed to the lust of the eyes. It either made you want to feel good—some beautiful pictures of sun-kissed beaches in Florida—I won't tell you who was advertising—it made you want to go there. Some very sexy women that made you look twice. They know how powerful it is—the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
It's exactly what Satan came to Jesus with in the wilderness. Do you remember Jesus in the wilderness when he fasted for forty days? He came after forty days and said, "Turn these stones into bread." (The lust of the flesh.) "You're hungry; turn the stones into bread."
Then he took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of this earth—the lust of the eyes. And then he said, "If you're the Son of God, jump off the top of the temple and your Father will have angels catch you." He quoted a verse from the Psalms to back that up. "And you'll get yourself known"—the pride of life. "How come if you're the Son of God, nobody knows? Get yourself on the map."
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. You know, when we think about this, we probably tend to think that that lust of the flesh—the biggest problem is probably sex. But in Scripture it isn't; the biggest problem in the lust of the flesh is actually food, in the Bible, here in the Garden of Eden. "She saw it was good for food."
Remember Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob? And Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew and later it tells us that when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he could bring about no change, even though he sought it with tears. But over the immediate gratification of his hunger, he traded his whole future for a bowl of stew.
Remember the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to Canaan? They were six weeks into the wilderness—it was going to take them forty days. And if they had turned into a democracy they would have gone back to Egypt on the grounds the food was better in Egypt than it was in the wilderness. They complained about the food.
And when Satan attacked Jesus, his first attack was about food. It's probably a bigger problem than we realize. And probably because that is the most easy, accessible, legitimate, physical appetite; if we can't control that, we won't control the sex drive either.
I was talking to some folks just the other day. We were talking about what are the blind spots, what things don't we talk about very much, what things does the Bible address that we don't address these days? And one of them said, "I've never heard a sermon on gluttony," because if we have a problem in the western world, that's probably one of them. We don't preach about it because we would embarrass a lot of folks who are sitting in any congregation. So they made me promise that I would preach on it one day. But I won't tell you when. It's actually sin.
Satan is offering them something God has not offered them. He is offering them independence, he's offering them autonomy, he's offering them self-sufficiency, he's offering them this tremendous value we have in our society—we call it choice—but choice outside of what God has permitted.
The Sequence of Temptation: Mental and Moral
There are two things in the sequence of what takes place here. The first is mental; the second is moral. Let me explain what I mean by that.
When the devil begins to talk to Eve, he first attacks her mind. He said to the woman in Verse 1,
"Did God really say, 'You must not eat from the tree in the garden?'"
Now that's a very clever tactic. He doesn't make a statement; he simply asks a question. But the question is designed to throw your mind into doubt. "Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?"
You look at Satan in the book of Job, when Satan talks to God about Job, he says to God, "Does Job fear God for nothing? I mean you have made life good for him. That's why he fears God, isn't it?" He doesn't make a statement; he simply asks a question. And the question is designed to throw your mind into confusion and doubt.
Now of course God didn't say, "You must not eat of any tree in the garden" and Eve knew that, so she put him right. Eve told him in Verse 2,
"We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it or your will die."
You say, "Well good for Eve, coming back with that response." God did not say, "You can't eat from any tree." But actually he's got Eve confused because she comes back and amongst other things she says, "He said, 'You must not eat from the tree of the middle of the garden and you must not touch it or you will die."
God didn't say, "You must not touch it."
But what he has done, you see, is thrown Eve into doubt. And so he is creating in Eve's mind this idea that God is unreasonable. He is giving confusion, he is giving her the right, I suggest to you, to "interpret" what God has said, because "he doesn't really mean exactly the way it sounds," to her own satisfaction.
Then in Verse 4 Satan throws back the challenge,
"You will not surely die."
Well, he was partially correct—physically. Eve and Adam did not fall over dead. They lived for many years. They did not die physically, but they did die spiritually. They became separated from the life of God, a condition that you and I inherit. We are stillborn spiritually—"in Adam all die."
Satan corrupts the mind. His first attack is mental. Does that ring a bell in your own experience, when you are tempted in some way? You say, "This lie will get me off the hook. I just need to tell it once and it is all tidied up and I'm off the hook."
It doesn't work that way. Your sin will find you out.
Do you ever rationalize and say, "It's okay to take something that is not mine in this situation because it is my employer and they owe it to me anyway and they wouldn't miss it in any case. What's the big deal?" Or you say of a relationship that is wrong with somebody else, "Well, this is an exceptional case. I know generally speaking this kind of thing is not right but in my case …" and you rationalize it and you justify it. Be sure this is the voice of Satan speaking into your mind.
That's why the mind is so crucial in the Bible. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" it tells us in the book of Proverbs. We're told by Paul in Romans 12, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." That is, be transformed by thinking properly and truthfully. You see, all spiritual experience, I suggest to you, whether it's good or bad, begins in the mind.
The word "repent" literally means "to change the mind." The New Testament word, mĕtanŏia—two words—mĕta "to change," nŏia "of the mind" (nŏus). It is to change the mind.
What Satan is asking Eve to do is to repent negatively, change her mind from truth to error. And that's why our response to God always involves repentance, where we change our mind; we bring our minds into conformity to God's truth, what he has said.
That is why, unashamedly a major part of our meetings together like this is that we open the Word and we teach it. Why? Because we have to understand the mind of God and the ways of God. Otherwise you are vulnerable and you begin to reason. And of course Satan will tempt you to think God is unreasonable, God saying this is not actually reasonable, or we live in a different generation now anyway and so these things don't apply in the same way. I have heard all that—in my own mind.
We don't understand the truth by osmosis. Putting a Bible under your pillow when you go to sleep won't help you at all, but I know some people who do that. That's sheer superstition. If I put a Bible under my pillow I would get a headache. You've got to open it, read it. I know people who carry it in their pocket like a lucky charm. They don't know what is in it.
So he corrupts the mind. It's a mental process. And then it's a moral choosing. Mental thinking leads to moral choosing. There's a moment when she crosses the line. Verse 6:
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened."
By the way, you rarely sin alone. She took some and ate it and then she gave to her husband. You normally drag somebody else down with you. It's not just about you and just about me. It will be about those who we drag down with us.
And it says that when she did, her eyes were opened. That's exactly what the devil told her. Whew! But open to what? Well, it says: "to the knowledge of good and evil." The word "knowledge" there means experience. When Adam knew Eve and she conceived and gave birth to a son, that same language is used. To know her was to experience her.
When it says, "This is life eternal, that you know God," it's not that you have accumulated information about God; it is that you experienced God. The knowledge of good and evil is not just information about good and evil. "Okay, now we've got two lists. One is a good list; one is a bad list. We know which is which."
It's experience—that they opened a door; they crossed a moral threshold. There was no way back and now they entered a world of good and evil. What does that mean? Good and evil are not opposites. If I were to say to you, what is the opposite of good? It's likely a lot of you would say the opposite of good is bad. But it isn't the opposite of good.
Let me put it this way: what is a good apple? A good apple is a nice, juicy, ripe apple that you take and enjoy. That's a good apple.
What is a bad apple? A bad apple is a good apple that has gone off. There is no such thing as bad in itself. Bad is an adjective. Bad is not the opposite of good. Bad is the corruption of good. They were living in a world that was good, good—five times good—sixth day very good, and suddenly discover they are in a world that is corrupt. That was the knowledge of good and evil.
And bad only exists in relationship to that which is good and all that was good in Chapter 1 has now been corrupted. And the knowledge of good and evil becomes the experience of good and evil. And suddenly the good world of which God had created and in which he had placed them, has become a world that has become corrupted. It is now good and evil and the Pandora's box was opened and there was no going back. In Genesis Chapter 4 you have your first murder. There was no going back.
It's not the greatest note to finish on, is it? And so I'll finish by saying this—there is a Tree of Life. The Tree of Life appears again at the end of the book of Revelation. It's never mentioned again between Genesis 3 and Revelation 22. But there is a Tree of Life. Peter wrote this about the cross of Christ in 1 Peter 2:24:
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."
The cross of Christ is the antidote to what happened in the Garden of Eden, when Christ who knew no sin was made to be sin for us; that is, he accessed the Tree of Life, bore the sins of human history in order that he might now forgive and cleanse and heal and restore life.
When I was younger we used to sing a song in the church I grew up in—I don't know if you know it—it's a chorus really.
There's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin
There's a door that is open and you may go in.
At Calvary's cross is where you begin
When you come as a sinner to Jesus.
We'll see next week that one of the things God talked to Eve about was the cross of Christ. He said the serpent will bruise the heel of your seed, your descendent, but he will crush your head. The seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. It's the first time the gospel is preached in the Old Testament.
There is a Tree of Life on which hangs a substitute for your sin and mine—a crucified Christ. And although what I have said this morning is addressed primarily to those of us who are Christians that we understand the worming ways of the devil and are alert to it and responsive and close the doors, if you don't know Christ, this is not the end of the story. You can be reconciled to God. You can be made alive again spiritually by coming to Christ and saying, "Lord I realize that I too am a recipient of the wages of sin that were paid in the Garden of Eden. I am spiritually dead, separated from you, but I want to come home." And there is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. There is a door that is open and you may go in. Calvary's cross is where you begin, when you come as a sinner to Jesus.
Charles Price is the Senior Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the founder of Living Truth, an international teaching and preaching ministry.