Teaching series from Genesis

Humanity's Wrong Turn

Genesis 3:1-17

Teaching t14063


Review Genesis’ “beginnings” theme – we come now to humanity’s wrong turn – the beginning of sin and death.  Humans were created in the image of God – enjoying God’s presence, in benevolent rulership over nature, and in healthy relationship with one another.  All of this hinged on their free choice to trust God’s Word concerning the two trees in the garden.  Re-read 2:9,16,17.

There was nothing intrinsically significant about the fact that they were trees.  God could just as easily have said, “Don’t cross that stream” or “Don’t go past that mountain range.”  The point was that they were given a clear choice to trust God.

Neither did their fruits necessarily contain any magical or chemical properties.  The “tree of life” is so called because it represented the choice to trust and obey God and thereby enjoy fullness of life.  The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is so called because it represented the choice to arrogate to oneself the authority to define good and evil, instead of trusting God to define good and evil for us.

So the choice was clear.  God gave them ample reason to trust Him (personal fellowship and perfect environment), He gave them a very simple choice, and He spelled out the consequences that would flow from this choice.  Since this is a highly compressed account, we do not know how long they lived in harmony with God.  But at a certain point another influence came into the picture . . . 

Enter the Serpent

Read 1:1a.  Who is “the serpent?”  Is this simply Satan, or is it Satan indwelling a snake?  Christians disagree on their answer, but I think the former.

The definite article indicates a very specific serpent.  Satan is elsewhere (Rev. 12:9; 2 Cor. 11:3) identified as this serpent without any reference to a host animal.  The language in 3:1 seems to purposefully differentiate him from all beasts.  And, as we’ll see in two weeks, God’s judgment is directed only against Satan.

At any rate, Satan is in the garden.  We learn here that there has already been a revolt against God.  (“Satan” means “adversary.”)  This raises a whole host of questions: How long before this was he created?  When did he become God’s adversary, and what were the specifics of the conflict?  Did God permit him into the garden – or was he already there?  We have only a little information on this because the main them of the Bible is God’s rescue plan for humanity – not angelology.  But the little that is revealed harmonizes with the rest of scripture and is consistent with what we could deduce.

Ezek. 28:11-19 tells us that Satan was a great angelic being (“the anointed cherub who covers”) who was originally perfect.  At some point, he became so enamored with his own wisdom and beauty that he decided that he should not have to live under God’s authority.  He launched accusations against God’s character[1] (evidently initially to the rest of the angelic hosts) – and became God’s accuser/slanderer.  (“Devil” means “slanderer.”)  Rather than simply destroying Satan for launching these accusations (which would have been ineffective), God is vindicating His character and refuting Satan’s accusations (to angels as well as to humans) through His redemptive plan.[2]  Rev. 12:9 says that approximately one-third of the angelic beings chose to follow him in his revolt against God.  (These rebellious angels are called “demons” in the Bible.)

There is some scriptural evidence that the earth was his domain before his revolt, and that he took earth with him so that it became “the silent planet” (C. S. Lewis).  If this is the case, God created humans (in part) to re-establish His authority over the earth.[3]  God’s plan seems to have been for Adam and Eve and their descendants to gradually increase His rule from the garden (the “beach-head” of His “invasion”) outward throughout the whole earth (1:28).  But before this could happen, Adam and Eve had to make a clear choice on whose voice they would follow – the true God or the “ruler of this world.” 

The Voice of Satan

As we listen to Satan’s message to Eve, we should realize that we continue to hear his voice today.  Read Jn. 8:44.  His approach is not through power/intimidation (HOLLYWOOD), but rather through attacking God’s Word and slandering God’s character.

First, he distorts God’s Word (read 3:1b).  The Hebrew should be translated: “Indeed!  To think that God said you are not to eat of any tree of the garden!”[4]  He focuses her away from God’s great generosity and on His one restriction, thus implying that God is excessively restrictive (GOD AS THE “COSMIC KILLJOY”)

Read 3:2,3.  Eve’s response corrects this distortion, but then she adds a distortion of her own (did she get this from Adam, or did she make it up?)!  God never forbade them from touching the tree; He just told them not to eat its fruit.  This may seem like a small thing, but it is the first step away from simple trust in God’s Word.

The Church has a rich legacy of following Eve’s example (e.g., sex is evil; required abstinence from alcohol; “blue laws;” etc.).  This has the effect of eroding the authority of God’s Word, and of portraying Him as primarily restrictive.  How many of you, like me, became more aversive to God because of this tactic?

Then he denies God’s Word (read 3:4 – “surely”), suggesting that Eve is a gullible fool for believing it.  “He told you you would die if you ate that?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Do I look like I’m dead?  No way will you die!  You can’t be stupid enough to believe that!”  (Notice that the first denial of God’s Word is denial of His judgment.)

This is the way Satan increasingly undercuts the credibility of the Bible in our culture.  Not by providing conclusive proof that it makes mistakes or contradicts itself, but by simply dogmatically asserting that only the naïve and uneducated believe it.  You get this in the classroom, through the media, from the New Atheists,[5] etc.

This raises the obvious question of why God would give them false information.  Satan answers the question he has raised by slandering God’s character.  The slander that was implicit in 3:1b,4 now becomes explicit in 3:5 (read).  He claims that God is deliberately keeping them in the dark through this prohibition (“God knows that your eyes will be opened”).  He implies that God’s definition of good and evil is evil!

This is a message that resonates deeply within our hearts – the suspicion that God is holding out on me, that He will burn me if I entrust myself to Him and His direction, that His prohibitions restrict rather than free me.

This is the beginning of cynicism – the snarky “I see through this” attitude toward what is good and true and beautiful (and especially God).  Cynicism is toxic and satanic; it has no place in those who follow the true God and His Son Jesus Christ.

If they can’t trust God to tell them what is good and evil, where should they turn for this direction?  Satan’s answer is “Look to yourself.”  What a flattering suggestion!  They don’t need God’s moral direction – they can become their own gods by defining for themselves what is good and evil.  Self-direction and self-actualization become the path to enlightenment and freedom, and we have heard this anthem ever since.

We hear this voice through secular philosophy.  “(Genesis 3 is the account of the) transition from an uncultured, merely animal condition to the state of humanity, from bondage to instinct to rational control – in a word, from the tutelage of nature to the state of freedom.”[6]  HUMANIST MANIFESTO: “Away with special revelation, away with the heavenly law.  We will decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.”

We also hear this voice through religion.  LIBERAL THEOLOGY: “What happens here is not a ‘Fall,’ but an awakening.”[7]  EASTERN MYSTICISM: “You are already divine; you just need to realize this.”  NEW AGE: “There is a truth deep down inside of you that has been waiting for you to discover it, and that truth is this: you deserve all good things life has to offer . . . You will attract everything that you require. If it’s money you need, you will attract it. If it’s people you need, you’ll attract it.”[8]

Having accepted Satan’s suspicion about God’s love and trustworthiness, Eve now looks to creation instead of the Creator for fulfillment of her finite personhood (read 3:6a).  What before she viewed as a clear rejection of God’s loving authority, she now sees with different eyes: “I need something I do not now have in order to be fulfilled.”

She now sees the tree and its fruit through the grid of its power to enable her own self-actualization (read 2:9).  Good things (aesthetic beauty, physical needs, wisdom) now become replacements for God.  This is the beginning of idolatry.

Satan continues to seduce us from life with God through this same strategy.  He focuses us on using God’s good creation for the wrong ends – to make us wise, significant, fulfilled, etc. (read 1 Jn. 2:15,16).  In this way, he seeks to distract us from the only One who can truly make us wise, give us true significance, and truly fulfill us.

Eve has already revolted at this point – before she ate the fruit.  All revolt begins in the thought-world, through our choice to mistrust and reject God’s Word – and then manifests itself in our words and actions.  Do you try to fight temptation in your actions alone – or in your thoughts/beliefs about God’s wisdom and goodness?

The Aftermath

Read 3:6b.  This passage (and the rest of the biblical record) make it clear that both Adam and Eve were responsible for this revolt.  Adam had already heard directly from God on this, and he may have been present throughout this whole conversation[9] - which makes him more culpable than Eve (see Rom. 5:12).  She initiates; he acquiesces, choosing companionship with his wife (another idol) over fellowship with God.

IRONY: They got the opposite of what they expected.  In seeking to take a step upward, they “fell” downward.  Instead of becoming more like God, they became far less like God than He wanted them to be (the image of God remains, but it is badly distorted).  Instead of gaining life, they forfeited life and began to experience death (2:17b) in a series of alienations:

Instead of being in relationship with God, they become alienated from and suspicious of God (read 3:8-10), and turned in upon self.[10]  This is theological alienation – the root alienation that gave birth to the other alienations.

Instead of being “naked and not ashamed,” they become full of negative self-awareness and shame (read 3:7).  This is psychological alienation.

Instead of living in harmony with one another, they begin to hide from and blame one another (read 3:11,12).  This is sociological alienation.

Instead of having benevolent dominion over nature, nature is now resistant to them and antagonistic to them – even to the point of ultimately killing them (read 3:17-19).  This is ecological alienation.

TRAGEDY: This fall has affected every one of us and the world we live in.  We have become infected with these alienations because we descend from Adam and Eve, and because we sin in the same way they did (read Rom. 5:12).

Can you not relate to each of these alienations?  Do you not experience them to significant degrees every single day?  I surely do!

From now on, humanity retains something of God’s image – but that image is broken and distorted.  This is why we see such contradictory polarities in humanity: nobility and cruelty, loyalty and prejudice, generosity and greed, etc. – not just between groups of people, but also within our own hearts.[11]

HOPE: God allows us to reap the consequences of our revolt against Him – but He has not abandoned us.  No sooner did Adam and Eve revolt than God initiated with them (3:8), and spoke the first word about His rescue plan (3:14,15), and gave them a beautiful picture of it (3:21).  We’re going to take a close look at this hope in two weeks, but it’s great to know that there is a way back.

What’s our part?  Our part is simply to humble ourselves and cast ourselves on God’s mercy (quote Lk. 18:13,14).  This choice is painful (because it wounds our pride), but it is simple – and it results in immediate reconciliation with God and eventual healing of all of the effects of the Fall.  Have you ever made this choice?  Why not make it today?


NEXT WEEK: Jared Mustacchio, Ephesians 4:17-24 (which further unpacks the effects of the Fall)

RECOMMENDED READING: C. S. Lewis, Perelandra

[1] Ezek. 28:16,18 speak of the abundance of his “trade” and “iniquity.”  “Trade” is rakullah, from the root rakiyl (scandal-monger; see Lev. 19:16).

[2] “From Genesis to Revelation, questions regarding God’s character and government are raised in heaven and on earth.  Since the enemy’s slanderous allegations are epistemic (relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation) in nature, they cannot be effectively answered by any display of power, however great.  Indeed, no amount of power exercised by a king would prove to his subjects that he is not unjust.  No show of executive power could clear the name of a president accused of corruption.  A conflict over character cannot be settled by sheer power but requires demonstration.” John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love (Baker Academic, 2018), p. 91.

[3] See 1:28 “subdue” (kabash), which means to vanquish a hostile foe (cf. Josh. 18:12 Sam. 8:11).  See 2:15 “guard” (shamar), which often means “to guard, keep watch, protect.”

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1990), p. 186.

[5] “I don’t believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thor, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity.  For the same reason in every case: there is not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them . . .”  New Statesman interview with Richard Dawkins, cited in John Lennox, Against the Flow (Monarch Books, 2015), p. 191.

[6] Immanuel Kant, cited in “Conjectural Beginning of Human History,” in Kant on History, ed. L. W. Beck (Liberal Arts, 1963), p. 60.

[7] J. Baker, “The Myth of Man’s ‘Fall’ – A Reappraisal,” Expository Times 92 (1980/81) 235-237.

[8] Rhonda Byrne, The Secret.  30 million copies sold and translated into 30 languages.

[9] The “you”s are plural throughout this passage.  “. . . she gave also to her husband with her . . .”

[10] “. . . the corruption of the spirit itself.  It had turned from God and become its own idol, so that though it could still turn back to God, it could do so only by painful effort, and its inclination was self-ward.  Hence pride and ambition, the desire to be lovely in its own eyes and to depress and humiliate all rivals, envy, and restless search for more and still more security, were now the attitudes that came easiest to it.”  C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Macmillan: 1972), p. 57.  Now temptation is from within, not just from without.  Now we “slide” away from God instead of toward God.

[11] “The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.”  (Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn)