12. Genesis 3:1-6

I. B.  continued

2.  The Temptation (Genesis 3:1-6)

And so the serpent appears from nowhere, with no introduction and no explanation. We are not even given a description of this serpent except that he was subtle. He is the most subtle of the beasts, but his subtlety does not reside in great or deep intelligence or wisdom; rather his subtlety lies in his ability to contrive elaborate scams by which he can deceive and manipulate others into doing his will. His subtlety is psychological rather than intellectual. Later Paul will say that our warfare with the forces of evil lies in standing against the schemes of the devil, the psychological warfare he wages against us, the propaganda of the spirit. Spiritual warfare is not for those who are spiritually asleep, nor for those who are inexperienced. But of course Adam and Eve were exactly that: inexperienced.

With the introduction of the serpent we are encountering a metaphor. The Scripture does not say, and very few have imagined, that Satan actually is a snake. On the other hand, whatever Satan actually is, he is portrayed as ordinarily not visible to us; so if he were to attempt conversing with Eve he presumably had to devise some way of becoming visible to our eyes. Thus in the biblical account he chose the form of a serpent.

It is preferable to think of the serpent as a dragon rather than as a snake. He appeared as an un-named creature, a creature that was not among the ones Adam had met and named previously, a creature that neither Adam nor Eve had encountered before and with whom they had no relationship, no covenant tie, a creature over whom they had assumed no dominion. Satan came as a stranger to them and, inexperienced as they were with the creation, it did not seem strange to them that he should suddenly appear. They were like children and nothing is strange to children the way it is to an adult. Children have little idea of what they can expect from the world or what is possible and so they accept quickly whatever happens. This dragon came to speak to children, people who were presumably created as adults but were infants in experience.

Some have argued that the manner of the temptation and Fall shows that Eve was created to be under Adam’s dominion. These interpreters would say that the Fall didn’t happen until Adam made his choice because the woman’s choice was not authoritative. She was not the head over creation; her husband was the head, and therefore any choice she made had to be ratified by him, just as later the choices of women under the law of Moses had to be ratified by husband or father. It seems to me that these interpreters are reversing cause and effect, taking the results of the Fall and then reading them back into the conditions before the Fall.

It is more logical to view the temptation as a well-executed strategy aimed at striking both the man and the woman where they were the weakest.  It was the inexperience of both Adam and Eve that was the central weakness the dragon sought to exploit. Their inexperience with respect to evil was a fact that could only be cured by encountering evil, of course. There had to be a first time and the dragon provided it; and the logical choice for the attempted deception would be the one who had the least experience, the least knowledge of the exact restriction placed on the central tree: Eve. Eve would be the easier to deceive because she had not been there when God had planted the tree and given the command; she had heard it second hand from Adam. It isn’t clear how long she had existed before the dragon appeared to her, but if it were shortly after her creation she would naturally be more vulnerable to misinformation.

But Adam would be the easier one to actually tempt, and his weakest spot would be in regard to his companionship with Eve and her welfare. He had just come from the experience of naming the animals and the realization that in the whole creation he was really alone among all the other creatures; and then the overwhelming delight and relief at Eve’s creation and the joy of no longer being alone, an aloneness which even God had pronounced as being “not good”. To face the danger Eve was in, and the risk of losing her, was Adam’s vulnerable point. Thus, when he had to choose between obeying what he knew God had commanded at the risk of losing Eve to death (whatever that was), or disobeying God and joining her in death but at least not losing her, he chose to reject God and keep Eve. Satan’s method of temptation was an attack on both Adam and Eve, the joint heads over creation; but the strategy he chose happened to put the final choice to sin or not in Adam’s hands.

It is important to realize what it means that Eve was deceived into eating the forbidden fruit. She was tricked; her act was foolish but was not open, willful rebellion against God. Every word the dragon spoke engaged Eve on a level for which she had had no preparation, on a level entirely outside her experience. The first question – “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” – would have been disorienting to one who had never encountered exaggeration or misinformation before. It would even have been difficult for a modern person, as accustomed to lies and half truths as we are daily in the television and newspapers. A well-aimed, exaggerated question is a powerful and effective tool for throwing the unwary off balance; the mind is easy to disorient, and once off balance it has a kind of inertia that carries it further off balance. It is the small thing that knocks us down, just as a small branch is more likely to trip us than a fallen tree trunk. We are easy creatures to manipulate, even when we are cynical, and much more so when we have no clue as to what might be happening. Eve would have been easy prey, as her response shows; she didn’t remember the exact words of the command she had received. Her disorientation had begun.

But the dragon’s second sentence would be entirely bewildering – “You surely shall not die” – a direct contradiction of what God had said. Lies, deception, exaggeration were all alien to Eve’s life. What does one do with a contradiction? There had never been such a thing before and this statement from the dragon must have been very confusing. He followed it up by imputing to God motives which would be meaningless to her: that God was self-serving, jealous of His own wisdom over against theirs, and plotting to withhold a desirable thing from them for His own selfish purposes. All of these ideas were included in the dragon’s statement and would strike a resonant chord in any of us.

Who among us does not instinctively feel some suspicion and distrust and fear when we hear such an accusation, even against a friend. We have all been betrayed at one time or another, and the pain of the memory makes us the more ready to entertain suspicions, to be careful even with our closest friends that we not be hurt again. No such resonant chord would have been struck within Eve. She had no experience of betrayal or selfishness or jealousy. The dragon’s words were gibberish to her. He was using words that she would never have heard before and putting them together in a way that she could not have imagined, putting them together in a way that was conceptually alien but that would seem to hint at a meaning. And she had heard the word “evil” applied to the Tree, but it had no content for her, just a name for a tree. The state produced in Eve would have been one of perplexity and confusion, and in this state of mind she ate the forbidden fruit. But this is not sin, not yet.

Sin did not enter, the Covenant with creation was not broken, until Adam saw what Eve had done and chose to join her rather than obey God. That is why later in Romans 5 Paul would say that sin entered into the world through one man. What would have happened then if Adam had refused to join Eve? The Fall would not have happened. Eve had not truly sinned, and I imagine that she could have been rescued from her folly by some means less than a redemption. It is easier to undo a foolish mistake than outright rebellion. But once Adam saw what she had done and perceived the clear choice before him, then a deliberate rejection of God, a deliberate choice to love Eve over God, was made. Adam became the first idolater and Eve became the first idol.

Some have argued that Adam was with her when she took the fruit, perhaps even while she was speaking with the dragon, and that the first sin was actually the sin of Adam not asserting his authority over Eve. They argue that Adam should have made her stop listening to the dragon, and that in not interfering with the temptation he had abdicated his God given authority over his wife. They argue that Adam’s failure in eating the fruit began first as a failure in exercising his proper headship over Eve.

The wording of the story does suggest that Adam was with Eve during the temptation, but this interpretation of the sin of Adam reads back into Eden ideas about the nature of marriage that belong to our own corrupted condition. There is no information given on how the relationship between Adam and Eve functioned on a practical level, but reading back into Eden a worldly view of authority is unacceptable. Such an interpretation assumes that the use of force, even verbal force as opposed to physical force, in the exercise of authority would have been natural and obligatory to Adam, as it may be to us. But even if Adam was with Eve, and even if it were true that he had been given that kind of authority over her, would it have occurred to him to forcibly put a stop to the temptation, to stop her from taking the fruit by force, when no force had ever been used? To imagine that force, even gentle force, could have been a natural part of Eden is on the same level as imagining that death could have been a natural part of Eden; it gives away the goodness of creation and compromises the dilemma of our condition.

The chain of events that culminated in Adam being the one who made the fatal choice may have been something of an accident, a result of the peculiar logic of temptation, but it determined all that came after. Since a man had brought sin into the world, and death through sin, it should be a man who would deliver it. Had it been the woman who had opened the door to sin, then wouldn’t it all have been set up differently when God imposed the rules which governed how death was to be administered? If sin had come into the world through one woman, then wouldn’t the man have been placed in subjection to her, and wouldn’t the Incarnation have involved a woman savior? This is all entirely speculation, of course; we can never know what would have happened. However, the argument that Paul later appears to use is that it was because a man had introduced sin into the world that a man came to deliver it. My view works against the pride which men take in their imagined exalted position and authority. But shouldn’t any interpretation of Scripture that supports any kind of prideful attitude be automatically suspect?

It is important to understand that the dragon did not sneak in to Eden from whatever universe he came from, as if he went behind God’s back and pulled a fast one on Him. The dragon got in to Eden because God let him get in to Eden, and he spoke with Eve because God let him speak with Eve. Whether or not Adam was there, whether or not you think Adam should have interfered with the conversation, God was there and He didn’t interfere. It is strange how God chooses which events to meddle in. Occasionally He chose to do great and dramatic miracles when all seemed lost, but at the incipient events, when a little interference from Him would have done so much good and saved so much trouble, He seems to have typically had a hands-off policy. He goes to astonishing lengths to rescue us all from the Fall, but wouldn’t a little effort on His part have prevented the whole mess right there at the beginning? Why didn’t He just walk up and call the dragon’s bluff, saying something like “Where do you get off telling her I’m holding out on her, you ugly old dragon?”  Why is God always silent just when speaking up could do so much good?

The answer is, “I do not know”; but there are some answers that are pretty clearly false. It is not that God needed to know what they would do under temptation, whether they would fold or hold true. It is not that they had to justify themselves to God by obeying His one command. In one sense though, I think, I think, that God kept a hands off policy because it did not ultimately matter what they did and He wanted to show us, and perhaps the dragon as well, that it didn’t matter. This sounds harsh, I know, as if I thought God didn’t care what happens to us, whether we suffer or not, etc. but I do not mean it this way. What I mean is that God is so powerful, so totally in control and unflappable that whatever happened, whatever happens then or now or tomorrow, He will accomplish absolutely everything that He intends and intended.

He didn’t have to hedge His bets; He didn’t have to interfere with the roll of the die; He didn’t have to rig the election to have the creation He wanted. But we didn’t know that; the angels maybe had an inkling of it; the dragon certainly didn’t know it. God wanted to display His power, the power that can accomplish whatever it will even while letting us do whatever we will. Adam could choose to love God more than Eve, or he could choose to love Eve more than God; but whatever he chose, the final outcome would be absolutely the good and perfect will of God. We can take the easy road or we can take the hard road, but we will arrive at God’s planned destination, and we need to know that. He could have just told us so, but this is the kind of information that is only known by demonstration and experience. I realize my explanation is inadequate and unsatisfying, possibly even appalling, but it may be the best answer there is, and it is certainly the best I can give.

At this point Adam had broken the Covenant with God, and this carried Eve with him, and this carried the whole of our world with them. But why should this be? Why was the rest of creation the unwitting and innocent victim of Adam’s choice? In part, because this is how a covenant relationship works. Or, in other words, because that is how God set it up to work. As a bearer of the Covenant, as a representative or as a ruler, when Adam sinned he brought everything down with him. It is possible that God need not have set the Creation up in this way. Perhaps He need not have set up His relationship with the creation in the form of a covenant. That He did set it up this way says a lot about who He is and what He loves, but most importantly it says a lot about how He loves. He loves people and things in a covenantal way, not in a so-called “personal” or individualistic way.

That is the kind of God He is and the rest of the Scripture fills in the details of what it all means. And one of the things that the Covenant means, one of the specifics that the Bible teaches about our relationship to God, a teaching that is begun so vividly by the results of the Fall, is that God relates to us and to the creation in a communal way rather than as separate isolated pieces. The communal aspect of the biblical view of relationships is an aspect that has been lost by our extremely individualistic society. Americans especially, but western people generally, all expect to stand alone before God, to be judged on our own with no reference to our brothers or sisters or pets or whatever, but it is not that simple. No one, from Adam on, has ever been judged in pure isolation from everyone else.

2 Comments on “12. Genesis 3:1-6”

  1. arkvet Says:

    I had always thought it curious that the Fall was attributed to Adam, though Eve was the first to (seemingly) transgress the Law. I had also wondered whether the explanation that Eve was not the one in authority was adequate or correct. That naïveté excuses, or at least mitigates, her culpability as compared to Adam’s open rebellion offers a more satisfying explanation —particularly when bolstered by the observation that subjection to husband is pronounced by God to be a result of her involvement in the Fall. There is one part that confuses me, though.You posit the question, “If sin had come into the world through one woman, then wouldn’t the man have been placed in subjection to her, and wouldn’t the Incarnation have involved a woman savior?” Why? Was Adam placed in authority over his wife because he sinned and she didn’t? I don’t follow.

  2. I think Adam, and men, were placed in charge because Adam was the one to sin. I know it seems backwards, but I think it is something like what a parent means when a child spills something and he says, “You made that mess; now clean it up.” Men caused the damage and so they were in charge of holding it all together until ultimately a man would be born who could heal it. That is my take on it anyway.

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