Note: due to a problem with the recording, we don’t have the audio for today’s sermon.
Genesis 3:1-7 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
To this point in the Genesis account of creation everything had gone well; just as God intended. The heavens and earth hae been created, illuminated, formed, and filled. God made mankind in his image, assigned him dominion over His creation, and designed and officiated the first marriage. God’s word alone brought about the events of history and they were all good and very good.
In this passage, however, another voice comes onto the scene and it brings about very different results. Please pay attention this morning to the subtle attack of the serpent on the sovereignty and goodness of God, the catastrophic effect of even slightly twisting the words of God, the equally devastating effect of active and passive sin, and the foolish temptation to try to improve upon God’s plan. And please pray with me that God would help us to avoid these errors by fixing our eyes on the perfection and sufficiency of Jesus.
THE ENTRANCE OF THE CRAFTY SERPENT (3:1)
Take a look with me at the first half of 3:1, the opening of a new scene in Genesis.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman…
As the scene opens a couple of things immediately stand out. First, a new character is introduced. The focus shifts from the man and woman to “the serpent”. Second, the serpent is described in an unusual (or at least an unexpected) way. It is called “crafty”. In fact, the serpent is called “more crafty than any other best of the field.” Crafty in this sense isn’t necessarily bad. It means “shrewd”. “It carries the idea of being wary, of knowing where the traps lay and the dangers [lurk]” (Ross, CB, 134). Various Proverbs say it is something to be desired. Third, Moses emphasized that the serpent, the other beasts, and the field they are from were all made by the LORD God. Whatever happens next, it is in the LORD God’s realm. And forth, we find out quickly that something is really unusual about this serpent: it talks! Strangely enough, though, that’s not even presented as strange.
So, in this new scene we meet a talking, crafty serpent. That’s odd, but we don’t yet know what it means. We don’t know yet whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. We’re about to find out as we listen in on the content of this talking serpent’s speech to the woman. What would it say and what would she do?
Before moving on, I’d like to invite you to consider something: much of our lives are exactly like this (not the talking serpent part). We are constantly presented with situations that aren’t immediately, obviously good or bad. Every day unexpected things come before us and we’re not sure what to make of them. That’s inevitable. What this passage helps us to see, though, is that we need to always look at the world through the eyes of Christ. We’re not to be paralyzed by fear (that we’ll ruin the entire human race through our sin), but we’re not to be unaware of the fact that our decisions, even in seemingly small matters, matter.
All around us is a constant stream of opportunities to do godly things. Let’s not get so carried away thinking about things from the past or future that we miss the chance to honor Christ now. Right now you can’t control how lunch is going to go later (much less how that Dr. appointment is going to go in two weeks), but you can control whether or not you lean into this sermon. After the service, you won’t be able to control how your boss will react to your presentation on Monday (much less whether or not your kids get into a good college in 10 years), but you can control whether or not your words to the people of Grace are seasoned with grace. There is no doubt that Eve had no idea what she was stepping into and that reminds us to live life with our eyes open.
THE MESSAGE OF THE CRAFTY SERPENT (3:1-5)
Back to the situation at hand. What would become of this encounter with the serpent and the woman? The first words out of the serpent’s mouth give us our first clue as to the nature of this encounter.
The Serpent’s Opening (3:1)
[The serpent] said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
For reference, the commandment of God in question is found in Genesis 2:16-17, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'”
Two things were crystal clear from God’s command. First, there was one tree in the garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that must not be eaten; not under any circumstances. And second, every other tree in the entire garden was there for mankind’s joyful and abundant provision. It’s not clear exactly what the serpent’s question meant, but it is clear exactly why he asked it: to undercut both of God’s clear commands. By asking if God really denied them access to any tree the serpent undercut the fist and therein challenged God’s authority. And by making the focus on the one prohibition rather than the abundant provision the serpent undercut the second and challenged God’s goodness. Again, whatever the actual meaning of the question, the end result was to plant a seed of doubt in the woman’s mind about the goodness and trustworthiness of God and his commands. The serpent’s twisting of God’s words was subtle but deadly.
But how would the woman respond? Would she recognize the serpent’s trickery and treachery or would she be deceived? We begin to find the answer in the woman’s reply.
The Woman’s Reply (3:2-3)
She immediately responded…
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
Although it seems that the woman attempted to correct the serpent (or at least answer its question honestly), you’ll notice that she stumbled a few times. She didn’t quite get God’s words right either. She offered a loose paraphrase, which undersold God’s kindness (“may eat” instead of “may surely eat”; and “of the trees” instead of “of every tree”), she failed to name the forbidden tree which indicates she failed to understand the reason for God’s prohibition (it gave a certain, destructive kind of knowledge of evil), she added a clause to God’s command (“neither shall you touch it”), and she softened the consequences of disobedience (from “you shall surely die” to “lest you die”).
Between the sinful, crafty temptation of the serpent and the woman’s loose grasp on the actual words of God (and, apparently, heart of God), disaster seems to be looming. But would the woman recognize the danger in time to flee from it or would the serpent prevail?
The Serpent’s Rebuttal (3:4-5)
In the final verbal exchange the serpent appears to gain an even greater edge. In reply to the woman’s answer:
4 … the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The serpent’s first attack was subtle and sideways. Here it is obvious and frontal. The serpent moved from a sneaky question to a direct denial and a misguided promise.
The serpent denied God’s promise of death for eating of the tree. What’s more, the serpent promised that instead of dying, should the woman eat, she would be further enlightened and become like God. But here’s the real treachery of the serpent: it offered a measure of truth and perverted, diseased versions of good things God had already given (while implying that God had withheld them).
What do I mean? As we’ll see in just a moment, death for eating was not immediately obvious. There was a measure of truth in what the serpent said.
What do I mean? The serpent offered knowledge of good and evil, but here’s the thing, Grace; here’s the key: by having previously given purpose and commands to man God had already given them the knowledge of good and evil—to live according to their purpose and according to God’s commands was good and to fail to do so was evil. Similarly, by placing the tree in the garden and prohibiting them from eating of it, God again gave a kind of knowledge of good and evil (to not eat was good and to eat was evil). But there is a great difference between knowing that there is such a thing as evil (which God offered for their good) and knowing it through participation in it (which the serpent offered for their destruction). In love God warned the woman of the horrors of the second kind of knowledge, but the serpent disguised it and offered it as a blessing and as an accusation of selfishness against God.
What do I mean? God had made man and woman in his image; he had already made them like him. In every good way the man and women were like God. To desire or possess anything more would only mean suffering and death.
Do you see these things, Grace? What deceit. What evil. What wickedness!
“It is interesting that three times the Word of the Lord is quoted [twice by the serpent and once by the woman], but never appropriately: once it is questioned in a misleading way, once it is paraphrased with major changes, and once it is flatly denied” (Ross, CB, 132).
And that brings us to a moment of reckoning. What would the woman do? And where was the man?
THE RESULT OF THE CRAFTY SERPENT (3:6-7)
Faced with a choice the woman turned her eyes upon the tree.
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
In spite of God’s clear words to the contrary, the woman (with the help of the serpent’s temptation and the man’s absence), trusting in her own perspective and judgment rather than Gods, convinced herself that the tree, beautiful in appearance, was good for food and wisdom. And so she ate of it and encouraged her husband to do the same (which he did).
What was the result? What happened because of this? Did they die as God promised they would?
V.7 tells mentions nothing about death. Instead, it says that “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
Well that’s not quite what we expected is it? God promised death for eating of the fruit of the tree of tree of knowledge of good and evil. And yet, as the serpent predicted, that’s not what seems to have happened. Two specific consequences are stated in this passage, neither of which is death, and neither of which seems terribly bad. The first is that “Their eyes were opened,” and the second is that they now “knew that they were naked.”
As we will see beginning next week, however, their awareness of the consequences of their sin will continue to pile up until they truly become unbearable. The next several chapters in Genesis (up through 6) describe a staggeringly, rapidly increasing wickedness among mankind. Physical death would eventually come to Adam and Eve (just as God had promised); though not before it came to their second-born son at the hand of their first. Indeed, physical death would soon come to the entire human race because of their disobedience.
But it’s important for us to understand that the results of their disobedience were even more immediate and more severe than that. There was an even deeper consequence to their sin. Worse than physical death (which happened eventually and visibly), Adam and Eve suffered spiritual death (invisibly and immediately); along with all of their offspring (every human being since). By eating of the visible forbidden fruit Adam and Eve sent an invisible shockwave of judgment, curse, and death into every atom of creation.
The NT makes clear to us what was not clear either to Adam and Eve or to the Israelites to whom Moses first gave this book. That is, that there was so much going on than the eye could see.
Revelation 12:9 tells us that this was no ordinary talking serpent. It was the devil himself.
Romans 8:20-21 tells us that at the eating of this fruit all ” …creation was subjected to futility… 21 … [to] bondage to decay…”.
Romans 5:12, 17 tells us that ” …sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” and that “…because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man…”.
Again, much of this will become increasingly clear as we continue to work through Genesis; and especially chapter 3. But even here, do not miss the staggering implications of Adam and Eve’s sin. This is why the world is in disarray. This is why life is hard. This is why there is disease and brokenness and pain and suffering and natural disasters and death. This is why mankind has rejected (to varying degrees) God’s design for government and relationships and family and work and friendships and everything else. But this is also why God sent his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross—to absorb God’s judgment for this sin and all that would follow, and to restore all that sin has destroyed.
Grace, if we read Genesis well, we cannot miss the striking contrast between the effect of the word of the LORD in the first two chapters and the effect of the word of the serpent here. For two chapters the word of the LORD brought light and order and fullness. In just a few verses the word of the serpent brought, as we are about to see, darkness, confusion, and chaos.
I’d like to conclude with a handful of implications and applications.
- There is one true God. The serpent offered to Eve what was not his to give: equality with God. We must not fall into this temptation ourselves. You are not God. Your friends are not God. Your stuff is not God. Your feelings are not God. Your kids are not God. God alone is God and therefore God alone is to be worshiped and obeyed.
- There are forces working against God and against his people in this world. Some are visible and some are invisible. This does not mean that we are to live in a spirit of fear—for Christ has overcome all of these enemies—but it does mean that we forget, ignore, or remain ignorant to these things only to our own temptation and pain.
- The enemies of God have many tactics; sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious, but always crafty. For a remarkably eye opening perspective on this I recommend Ephesians 6:10-18 and C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Again, being aware of this is simply to live in the world as it is.
- We need to get God’s word right. We need to get it right in its language, meaning, and authority. The woman and then her husband missed all three. She misquoted, misunderstood, and misjudged it, and died as a result. God’s word stands in judgment over us; it is not ours to judge. Therefore, the more we can know the word of God, the more we can hide it in our hearts, and the more we can learn to love it for what it is, the more we are able to live in a manner pleasing to God and good for the world. Many years later Jesus, the second Adam, was tempted as well with a twisting of the word of God by this same serpent. Unlike the first Adam, though he remained faithful (Matthew 4:3-11).
- God alone defines what is good and evil and appearances are often misleading. The appearance of a thing does not always tell of its true nature. There is no doubt the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil looked good for food and was a delight to the eyes. But the devil masquerades as an angel of light and charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. That something is attractive to us is not a reliable measure of its goodness. God’s Word alone tells us who God is, who we are, and how we are to live in God’s world.
- There are kinds of knowledge that we should not desire. Not all wisdom is wise. God has given us all that we need to know. Let us keep our eyes on pure things, not even glancing (as the woman did) at evil. “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19).
- Take sin seriously for God’s judgment is inescapable. The serpent attempted to deceive Eve by redefining sin and denying God’s judgment upon it. The world around us is feverishly doing both as well. If we look carefully enough at our lives it will quickly become clear that we too are often tempted in these ways. Every act of sin is treason, deadly, and will be judged; either upon ourselves in hell or upon Christ on the cross.
- True peace comes only from true righteousness. When Adam and Eve walked in righteousness they were naked and not ashamed. When they fell into sin they covered their nakedness in shame. By nature and choice none of us are truly righteous though. Does that mean that there is no peace available for us? Thanks be to God, no! Our peace comes from the true righteousness of Christ.
- Active sin and passive sin both lead to death. Eve actively engaged the serpent, actively sought out the fruit to eat, and actively shared it with her husband and she died. Adam passively sat back and received the fruit, ate it, and he died as well. This is a lesson I’ve learned through hardship over the past two years. Sins of omission (not doing the good things God calls us to do) are every bit as sinful and deadly as sins of commission (doing things God has called us not to do). Let us not be deceived.
- This is a hard passage of scripture. This is a hard chapter, and it gets harder still before getting better. And yet, one key to good preaching is to let the tone of the text set the tone of the sermon. It can be unpleasant to sit under this kind of text/sermon. But it is this text (and texts like it) that truly allow us to sing “Amazing Grace.” If we don’t spend time going into the depths of the sinfulness of sin, we cannot go to the heights of the amazingness of Grace. If you don’t know the fullness of your sickness, rebelliousness, treasonousness, and deadness, you cannot know the fullness of God’s mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Even in the darkness, there are great glimpses of hope. Taking and eating was here the doorway to death. Through Jesus it would become the doorway to life. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28). Likewise, clothing shows up for the first time here as a mark of profound shame and guilt, but one day we will be clothed in glory (2 Corinthians 5:4). This passage teaches us that we must know our sin, Grace Church. But it also offers us the opportunity to know the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ even more. Amen.