Did God Actually Say…? (Genesis 3:1–7)
This morning we continue our sermon series through Genesis. We will be in Genesis 3:1-7.
3 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. Genesis 3:1-7, ESV
This is the word of the Lord.
When I was a very small boy, about age six, my family had a small house in a small town in western Nebraska that had a pretty big wooden deck. There was lattice on this deck to keep small boys from crawling underneath the deck. Somehow the lattice had gotten broken so there was an easy path under the deck. So, my brother and I would often play under there.
Well, somewhere I had also figured out, maybe from my father who worked at the utility company at the time, what matches were. I learned from watching my father how to start these matches. I was six and there wasn’t a whole lot of critical reasoning developed. Wooden deck and matches, of course under the deck would be the perfect place to light the matches because no one would be able to find us or see us.
So, my brother and I were in there and I was lighting those matches and we were having a good time. We were careful, we had it handled, we were six and four. So, we were lighting these matches, but I didn’t let my brother because I was responsible. Once they were lit we would immediately extinguish them in the dirt below us.
Well, because mothers always know what is happening, my mom came out and said, “Jacob, Anthony, where are you?” We came out and reported to our mother who had called us forth. She said to us, “I’m smelling something that smells like matches. You guys aren’t lighting matches under there are you?”
Up until that moment I didn’t know that what I was doing was potentially dangerous and could kill us all with a single blow. Suddenly it dawned on me and I wondered how on earth did I get here?
Then I did the only thing that came to my mind, which was to flat out lie about it. “Oh no Mom, of course we wouldn’t be lighting matches.” My younger brother followed my lead, so it wasn’t just me stumbling, I was leading my brother into stumbling. My mom said, “Okay, I trust you if that’s what you say.” Then she went into the house.
Before, I didn’t really know what I was doing was wrong. Now I knew that I had done somehting really wrong. I had not only put myself, my brother, and my family in danger, but I had lied about it.
So, I stopped my mother and confessed what I had done and how I had lied about it. That was of course the point when the wrath of God fell down from heaven through my mother and then later from my father when he came home afterward.
Sometimes we know exactly what we are doing in sin, but other times we get to the point and wonder how on earth did I get here? How on earth did I get so self-deceived to do this horrific thing?
The time for the understanding of the horrors of what the man and the woman have done is coming. We will see that next week in the second half of chapter three. Right now, I want to start with the background sentence given in chapter three.
3 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’?” Genesis 3:1, ESV
That word “crafty” in Hebrew is “`aruwm”. I tell you that because the word “`aruwm” looks and sounds very close in Hebrew to the word in Genesis 2:25 for “naked”. The words are very similar and there is a word play going on here to tell us what is going to unfold.
The man and the woman are naked and innocent, they don’t know what is about to hit them. The serpent is crafty and he is going to, by his lies and deceit and subtleness, take them down.
We see the way that the serpent does this in this passage is that the serpent is essentially trying to get the man and woman to distrust God. The means by which the serpent tries to get the man and woman to distrust God is by trying to get the man and woman fundamentally to distrust God’s word.
1. The serpent tries to convince the man and woman to distrust the goodness of God’s word.
2. The serpent tries to convince the man and woman to distrust the truthfulness of God’s word.
3. The serpent tries to convince the man and woman to distrust the relevance of God’s word.
The Serpent Tries to Get the Man and Woman to Distrust the Goodness of God’s Word
Let’s look at how this plays out. In the second half of the first verse, so Genesis 3:1b, we read what the serpent’s approach is. We read that he said to the woman, not an instruction like “Hey, right now go eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. In fact the serpent is so crafty that he never has to explicitly tell them to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He doesn’t even start with an assertion such as “Don’t trust God, you shouldn’t trust him.”
Instead, what he starts with is a question. That is innocent, it’s just a question, that’s fair. He says to the woman, “Did God actually say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” That’s a legitimate question. Except, what the serpent is doing is multi-layered. It’s subtle and crafty, just like we read in God 3:1a.
What he is trying to do is to get them to doubt the goodness of the generosity of God’s provision. The question that he asks in preposterous. God had not told them they could not eat any food. Of course, God had told them that they could eat abundantly. He had only withheld one tree of the whole garden that they were not allowed to eat.
He frames this in such a way, “Did God actually say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” to raise the question that maybe God is stingy and miserly, maybe he is withholding.
He is doing something else at another level. Derek Kidner describes this as smuggling an assumption into this question. The sort of a hidden cargo of this assumption is the question, well maybe God’s word is subject to our judgement?
Before this Adam and Eve had received God’s word joyfully. They had embraced it. Why wouldn’t they trust their creator and do what he had asked them to do? God had given them everything in this garden. He had made them the vice-regents over all of creation.
Now the serpent is asking a question that causes them not only to doubt God’s goodness, but to put themselves in a position of judgement over the word of God.
If the serpent’s question is bad, the woman’s response is even worse. She lays four steppingstones that pave the way directly toward her sin. Look at what she says in verse two,
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, Genesis 3:2, ESV
The woman misquotes what God had said in a pretty important way. She says, “well we may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden.” Look back at Genesis 2:16 to see what God had said. He didn’t say, “sure if you want to go ahead and eat if you are hungry.” He says,
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, Genesis 2:16, ESV
He only withheld one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What the woman starts off with doing is to understate the goodness of God. This is the first act of ingratitude in the Bible. It’s not pronounced or well developed, but the woman should have been standing in awe of what God had said.
She should have dismissed the serpent saying, “No, God said that we may surely eat of every tree of the garden, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What a wonderfully generous God we have.” She simply understates it by saying, “Yeah, I guess we have some food to eat if we need it.”
The second thing the woman does, is not to understate God’s generosity, but to overstate God’s strictness. Look at what she continues with in verse three.
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. Genesis 3:3, ESV
Now God had said nothing about touching the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the garden. According to the Word of God, they could have climbed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they could have swung from its branches like Tarzan, they could have had a picnic under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil every day of their lives. The only thing they were commanded to do was not to eat from it.
We see here the first act of legalism in the Bible. She is given a clear command from the Lord, but as legalism often begins, she wants to make sure she doesn’t even come close to overstepping the bounds. So, what does she do? She adds a buffer, another layer of rules that are theoretically supposed to keep her from getting anywhere near that rule. She probably thinks she is being great and righteous, but she is misquoting the Word of God to herself.
God had said nothing about touching it. So, not only has she understated God’s generosity, but now she’s probably to a point where in the back of her head, with the addition of this rule that God had not spoken, she’s thinking God is kind of strict.
The Serpent Tries to Convince the Man and Woman to Distrust the Truthfulness of God’s Word
Look at the third thing she does.
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. Genesis 3:3, ESV
Here the woman, again, misquotes what God had said. Look at Genesis 2:17,
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.” Genesis 2:17, ESV
It’s a certainty, it’s a fact that if they eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they will die. Yet the woman phrases it as a hypothetical possibility. It’s sort of like if I said to you as you are heading out today; “Just be careful on the way home. Be sure to buckle up your seat belt, lest you die.”
That’s hypothetical because it’s possible for you to get all the way home without buckling your seatbelt, assuming that you don’t have a horrific accident. If you did have a horrific accident, that seat belt will keep you, Lord willing, from dying. So, let me tell you, especially you children who don’t know why you have to buckle your seat belts, buckle your seat belt lest you die. In case something terrible happens.
That’s not what God had said. This is not a hypothetical possibility. This is an absolute certainty that the day that you eat of it you shall surly die. This is the first act of a failure to fear God.
God doesn’t want us to be servile and motivated primarily by fear, but he does give us warnings. He does tell us what we ought not do and why we ought not do it. God said do not eat from that tree for on the day that you eat of it you will absolutely, without fail, die.
The fourth thing that the woman does, is much more subtle. The serpent did this without any of us actually realizing it. Notice that all the way through Genesis chapter two we read again and again not just about God doing something, but about the LORD God. That’s Yahweh God. That’s the personal name for God. He is a personal God who wants to relate personally to his people.
Yet the serpent said, did God actually say this rubbish? To which the woman responds, well God said, then she horrifically misquotes the Word of God. This is the first act in the Bible of depersonalizing God.
The idea of God in the Bible, the word used there is kind of replaceable it with, “the deity”, and you have a pretty good estimation of how the word works. It’s not a personal name, it’s a classification of what kind of nature God has. Which is why this word can also be used of Baal, Ashtoreth, all of these other gods are described with the same Hebrew word, “elohiym”, because that’s the nature of them if they were actually real gods.
This is not just a deity out there, that’s a depersonalization that drives a distance between her. He’s just that vague God out there. This is the God that she talks about, he’s not Yahweh God.
Now, this is again very subtle. Over the rest of the Bible this depersonalization of Yahweh God will become more obscene. For example, in Exodus chapter thirty-two the people of Israel, led by Aaron, will take gold and craft golden calves and say let’s have a feast to the Lord. Here it is, these two golden calves, behold Israel, your gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt. This is Yahweh, right? No, no, Yahweh said you do not make an image of me. You cannot represent me in that way.
Later, the people of Israel will struggle with which is the true God, the living God. They will worship Baal and Ashtoreth right along with the pagan nations around them. Today this goes by what sociologist Christian Smith calls, “moralistic therapeutic deism”.
We want to talk about God, the deity, but we want to rewrite him in the image that we prefer him to be. Such as he is a moralistic god, he wants us to be generally moralistic people. He’s a therapeutic god, he wants us to generally be happy in life.
He is also a deistic god; deism is the idea of the absentee landlord. The god who created the earth, but he is kind of busy and doesn’t want to micromanage your affairs. So, try to live a good life. Figure out what happiness is to you, go ahead and seek it; you’ll be fine with god.
We remake God in our image by depersonalizing him from Yahweh, the God who says my name is “I am what I am”, which is why it is blasphemous to represent me in any way contrary to who I am.
All of this builds a picture that Yahweh God isn’t really good. Boy, maybe God is stingy, maybe he is miserly, maybe he’s not even going to keep his word about the punishment he promised to us.
That’s the point on which the serpent pounces in verses four and five. After questioning covertly whether God’s word is good, the serpent then issues an assertion, a statement of false fact. He says in verse four,
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. Genesis 3:4, ESV
Now, it’s important to understand that the way that the grammar works here. The “not” is attached to the “surely” and not the word “die”. It’s like this is a possibility that this might happen, but it’s not certain. You will not surely die. Whereas God had said that on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
So, this is a direct contradiction of the Word of God. Notice, if God is not as good as they thought, they have something of a motive. Next, Satan is giving them the opportunity to commit a crime. He’s telling them, you won’t certainly die, you aren’t guaranteed to get caught here.
They still don’t have an absolute reason to step out in rebellion against their creator, until we get to verse five. This is when the serpent blends his arguments that God is not good and that he is not true in this way. He says in verse five,
For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5, ESV
The idea there is that God hasn’t told you the whole truth. Not only has he not told you the whole truth, but beyond that the whole truth is the God is withholding some really good gift from you. That gift is that you will be like him and you will know good from evil if you just walk forward and take the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and eat it for yourselves.
They have motive, they have opportunity, and they have an actual reason that they believe that they will get something better from disobeying the clear word of the Lord and sinning for the first time.
The Serpent Tries to Convince the Man and Woman to Distrust the Relevance of God’s Word
The serpent has questioned whether God’s word is good, whether God’s word is true. What we read in verse six is that he has planted the seed in the mind of the woman to question whether God’s word is relevant at all. In verse six, the woman independently evaluates the fruit, looks at it, and decides for herself that she doesn’t need the Word of God.
Look at what it says, it’s remarkable that this language is meant to reflect God’s evaluation of his creation.
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. Genesis 3:6, ESV
We read seven times in Genesis chapter one, “and God saw that it was good.” Then the last time we read in Genesis 1:31,
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31, ESV
Seven times we read this kind of a statement. Well, now it’s not God evaluating and not God pronouncing judgement. It’s Eve saying, “I don’t need the Word of the Lord. I can pronounce things good or not on my own basis.”
Not only that, she says that the tree was “good for food”. Look at chapter 2:9,
9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9, ESV
God had given them food that was good for food, but they wanted this instead. Not only that, but it was a delight to her eyes. God had given every food that was pleasant to the sight. Not only that, but we read that the tree was desired to make one wise. That’s the word for covet in the tenth commandment.
Both the word in Genesis 3:6, for delight, and the word for desired are both used in Exodus chapter twenty to describe the word for covet. The word for desire is more often used for the word for covet. She coveted it to make her wise. “So, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
The Word of the Lord was no longer relevant. What is fascinating is that Adam is finally here. We read that he ate. There is a tendency, since the woman is the one mainly interacting with the serpent, to say that there is a woman to blame here. This is not really the way this is written.
The way this is written is so that you have Adam who was originally given the word in Genesis 2:16-17. The woman was not created at that time. It was Adam who was charged with not just working in the Garden of Eden, but with keeping it free from the influence of unclean serpents. Remember, a serpent is later classified as an unclean animal according to the law of Moses.
It’s Adam should have been here executing judgement and dominion and authority over this lowly crawling, creeping beast of the field. He was given this authority. He sat there and did nothing and said nothing and it’s Adam whom God calls to account. Just like me under the wooden deck, it wasn’t my brother, but it was me who was responsible for that event. I was older, I knew more of the rules than my little brother did. I had the leadership and authority there, and I was the one who was charged with the crime.
We read in verse seven,
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:7, ESV
In Genesis 2:25, this was a good thing. They were naked and not ashamed. Now even the spelling of the word naked is different in Hebrew. It’s the same word but a variant spelling. It’s like the author is telling us something fundamentally has changed about the quality of this nakedness. Earlier and now they don’t have clothes, but only now they are exposed.
So, we read that in an attempt to cover their shame, they sewed fig leave together and made themselves loincloths. This is just their reaction to their sin, when they finally recognize, oh my goodness what have we done. This is before the Lord God comes roaring in asking what on earth have you done?
What are we to glean from this? We know this story pretty well. It’s so tragic to read it unfold, especially from the distance. We know all of these horrors of human history that are going to creep in because of this one act. Through Adam’s sin, he’s the one charged with it throughout the rest of the Bible, sin will enter the world. Through sin death will enter the world.
We know the rest of human history. We just want to stop it, but we can’t. What should we learn in our own struggle against sin and against Satan?
1. We must know God’s word. Not just a cursory, yeah, I’ve read it on occasion. We must embody the idea of prick us and we bleed Bible, as some great Christians have been described. We have to know the Word thoroughly.
Some of you may have wondered why we have been singing Psalms. Those seem like they aren’t the really cool hip songs that we other times sing. Sometimes they have funny language and they aren’t as cool as something Chris Tomlin has written. Why don’t we sing those songs instead?
We need to know the Word and we need to sing the Word in its pure form. Other songs are fine and great, we need to sing hymns and spiritual songs as well, but we have to sing Psalms.
Not only that, but we have to read Psalms. There was so much scripture in the service today. We need to know the whole arc of the story of the Bible. We don’t need to just know it, though it starts there.
Part of the woman’s misstep is that she incorrectly quoted the Word of God. Part of Jesus’ victory over temptation in the wilderness is that he correctly quoted the Word of God. We also have to understand it.
One preacher said as he was talking about this passage, that Adam and Eve, what they needed more than anything at this point was a preacher. Satan was preaching to them something and they needed to hear God’s Word proclaimed, reasserted, explained, and applied to their situation.
Don’t do what the serpent is telling you to do, for on the day that you eat of it you will surely die. Look to Yahweh God again. He is a good, generous Lord. Trust him, believe in him. Don’t listen to the lies of the serpent. Expel the serpent from the garden. Keep the garden pure. They needed a preacher there. They didn’t have one and they fell into sin.
It’s a humbling thing to do this because I’m called upon to proclaim the Word of the Lord. It’s far bigger than me. You’re not hearing my good thoughts. God willing, each week I try to apply and proclaim the Word of God because we have to know it and understand it.
2. Finally, it’s not just the Word. Notice the Word is the thing that was undercut. The Word is where Satan was trying to drive a wedge between the man, the woman and God. Understand that the Word was the way in which Adam and Eve could know God. The Word was how they could know his intentions, know his desires for them, know what he had warned them against.
It’s through God’s Word and only God’s Word that we have something infallible to trust the character of God. Eve only paraphrased a very small amount. It takes several readings to realize that she hasn’t said the same thing that God said. When we have a shaky knowledge of the Word and we go off just a little bit, the consequences can be disastrous.
This is why we need to continue into the Word so that we can accurately, genuinely know God. Not only know God but know his character and know his actions. God doesn’t abandon Adam and Eve here. He doesn’t condemn the world into eternal death in the way that he might have, or in the way that he would have been justified to do.
Before the end of the chapter we are going to hear the first ringing of the gospel message proclaimed. It’s in a veiled, shadowy, seed form, but from here the Word of God is going to keep growing, keep explaining God’s purposes and intentions.
God is going to raise up people, ultimately raising up the offspring of the woman in his son, who will stand against Satan three times in his temptation and again in the Garden Gethsemane. Tempted again and again with, “you don’t have to go to the cross, did God actually say you needed to do that?” He insists upon perfect obedience to his father so that we might be saved.
It’s through this gospel that God is right now reversing the curse. He is right now remaking and transforming men, women, and children into the image of God. Reforming us to be what we were intended to be, so that even though our outer bodies are wasting away, we are promised an inheritance where our bodies will be raised up and glorified. No longer people of the dust, but heavenly people resurrected and dwelling on this earth in the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus returns to bring his people home.
Brothers and sisters don’t listen to the serpent’s lies. Don’t listen to that great snake. The serpent who throughout history has led astray men and women. Look to the Word of God. In God’s Word look to God’s son Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh for us and for our salvation.
Pray with me.
Heavenly Father, we ask that you would be gracious to us. We ask that you give us grace to know you in and through your Word. God, we ask that you would give us diligence and patience. We are so dull and so slow and so dimwitted and darkened by the effects of the fall that we can’t even see how glorious it is until you remove the veil from our hearts to behold the glory of the Lord Jesus. God give us grace to do this by the power of your Spirit. It’s in your son’s name we pray. Amen.