Why Are We in This Mess?

| Genesis 3:1-7, 14-19 | June 3, 2018

Week of June 10, 2018

The Point:  We ruined a perfect relationship with God through our sin.

The Fall:  Genesis 3:1-7,14-19.

[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, “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.   [ESV]

[14] The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. [15] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [16] To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” [17] And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; [18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. [19] By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  [ESV]

“Sin Defined [3:1-7][1]  The word crafty is used with respect to what follows, where the words spoken by the serpent tempt the woman and lead her into moral evil. No mere snake could of itself display the craftiness and cunning which manifest themselves in the subsequent discourse with Eve. When therefore the Bible asserts that the serpent is crafty it is taking the first step, it would seem, in going behind the scene and letting us know that there is more here than meets the eye. Craftiness is at work such as does not belong to snakes. And the serpent speaks. What are we to do with this statement of Scripture? The result of the serpent’s speaking is that mankind became plunged into misery, and we realize that we are dealing with something that cannot be lightly brushed aside as if it is a fable. There is nothing in the Biblical account to indicate that the serpent speaking is a symbol or a fable. It is written as an historical account of what actually happened. Everything in the account suggests that a snake was actually present in the garden, and that this snake spoke to the woman. The serpent acts as a human; it raises itself above the beasts of the field which the Lord God had made and it elevates itself to an equality with man. There is something wrong and Eve should have recognized this as soon as the serpent began to speak. Sin serves to overthrow the order of things that God has instituted. How long a time had elapsed since man was placed in the garden and the approach of the serpent we do not know. With the serpent’s first utterance it becomes apparent that an enemy of God is speaking. The first words uttered form a question, which seems designed to cast doubt upon God’s goodness and yet, at the same time, seems to imply that if the serpent is misinformed, he is willing to be instructed in the matter. It is a sly question, for whatever else it may do, it serves to implant within the mind the idea that God is unduly strict in not permitting Adam and Eve to eat from all the trees. So while his question was sly, it was also false. This raises a problem. How can the serpent, a non-moral creature, suggest thoughts that are of a moral nature, questioning God’s goodness? In the light of the plain statements of the New Testament we understand that Eve was tempted by the devil. The evil thoughts which issued from the mouth of an actual snake found their origin in the devil himself. In some sense that we cannot understand for God has not revealed it to us, the snake was an instrument used by the devil. [2]  Instead of turning away from the serpent Eve engages in dialogue with him, thereby revealing that she did not really realize that the serpent was her enemy and that she did not perceive his evil intentions toward her and her well-being. The serpent had approached the woman as one who had her best interests at heart, and this appearance was a deception. When the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted of the devil He knew His opponent. He engaged in no dialogue with him, but reproached him with the infallible words of Scripture. Eve should have done the same thing. In the first part of her reply, Eve does not stress the freedom to eat, as God had done in granting this freedom in 2:16. Eve leaves out the word every or all that God used to emphasize that the entire garden was for man. [3] Then when Eve quotes God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she gives the location of the tree (in the midst of the garden) rather than the way God had described the tree. And Eve also adds to God’s command: neither shall you touch it. God had not said anything about not touching the tree. The Hebrew word for “touching” involves more than a mere handling of the tree with the fingers. The word is pregnant in meaning, and apparently suggests touching in the sense of consuming or making the fruit one’s own. Thus Eve had more in mind than the mere feeling of the fruit with the fingers. It would seem that Eve did truly understand God’s command by adding the element of touching. In using this word Eve could have been giving expression to the truth that the outward act of partaking of the fruit was really the result or manifestation of an inward desire. If one would touch the fruit in this manner, that touching would lead to eating and was the first step in the disobeying of God’s command. Lastly, the penalty which God had threatened is stated in general terms and its forcefulness is weakened. Eve merely says lest you die, whereas God had said you shall surely die. Why did Eve do this? Why did she add to the commands of God? Why did she place them in her own words? It would seem that her exaggeration really revealed what was in her heart, namely, the feeling that God’s prohibition had been too stringent. It shows that Eve’s love to God and her confidence and trust in Him had begun to waver. [4]  Having first implanted a doubt in the woman’s mind or at least having watered the doubt that may already have been there Satan now advances to a direct denial of God’s truth. He gives to his lie all that he has, employing a forceful manner of expressing it: You will not surely die. It is a powerful negative, clearly spoken, so that Eve must now choose between God and the serpent. The serpent makes it appear to Eve that he has a better knowledge of God than she has. She is confined by her position of trusting in God, of taking seriously His command that she will die if she disobeys. From this cramping position she must be emancipated and move over to a standpoint of neutrality from which she can accurately pass judgment upon God and His commands. [5]  Thus the serpent passes judgment upon God, claiming that God is jealous of Adam and Eve becoming like Him. Satan’s point is to oppose the God of goodness. If they eat, they will be like God, in that they will then know good and evil. Sometimes a half truth is more dangerous than an outright lie. God did know well enough that when the man and the woman disobeyed Him their eyes would be opened, and it was to prevent this sad consequence that He imposed His command. For God’s commands are for our good. His law should be our delight, for it is good, and pure and holy. This the serpent denies. [6]  The serpent does not in so many words urge the woman to partake of the forbidden fruit, nor is it necessary that he do so. In the false light that he casts upon it, the woman looks at the tree as though for the first time, and she sees just what the tempter desired her to see. Not the abomination of sin, not the hideousness of evil stand in her vision, for she has disavowed the faith, cast aside the word of God, accepted the lie, subjected herself to the devil, yielded to a mere sensual judgment, transgressed God’s command and abandoned true knowledge in favor of the false. And what was this knowledge that the serpent offered to her? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The phrase “good and evil” was a synonym for the expression “everything.” Here, however, the words are not merely a synonym for “everything” but mean something far deeper. The word “know” is pregnant in meaning, signifying more than a mere intellectual understanding. It involves an experiencing, so that for Eve to know good and evil as the serpent suggested would be an experiencing of good and evil. What a sharp contrast this was from what God intended for the man and woman. ‘Do the evil,’ the tempter was saying in effect, ‘in order that you may know the difference between good and evil, from the point of view of evil. How different was God’s desire that they, merely out of love for Him and obedience to His command, simply because it was His command, should know the difference between good and evil. That God’s law should be the delight of the heart leads to an obedience of God’s commands born out of love to God. Had Adam and Eve out of mere love of God obeyed His commands, they would truly have been blessed. [7]  Had the serpent spoken the truth? Scripture says that their eyes were opened, and that is precisely what the tempter had predicted. But to what were their eyes opened? From the formal standpoint the words of the serpent were true, but these ‘true’ words of the tempter expressed a tremendous lie. And this fact should be a warning. It is possible to say something that in itself is true and by so doing to give an entirely erroneous impression. This is deceitfulness. How great a mistake we make if we assume that Satan in his opposition to God fights out in the open! His lies are not open and direct, for the art of deceitfulness serves him far better. Now Adam and Eve see good and evil from the standpoint of sinners, form the low level of sin. Their eyes were opened to the fact that they were corrupt and polluted, for they sought both to clothe themselves and to hide from the presence of God. They recognize their lost condition and realize from what a high estate they have fallen. Adam and Eve were now in a condition in which they possessed a corruption of heart. Before the fall the first man and woman saw things as they actually were. Wherever they cast their eyes they beheld the world that their good God had created and they saw all things as His creation. The knowledge which they now have is one which judges everything from a false standpoint. It sees all from a perverted position. Basically it is mistaken about all that it would interpret. As a result they seek to do what sinners always try to do. They make an effort at saving themselves. So perverted is their reason, so dark their light, so ignorant their knowledge, that they fall into the foolish effort of attempting to clothe their nakedness. In the garden before the fall the man and woman acted in accordance with God’s command. His will was their law, and they gladly yielded thereto a rejoicing obedience. Now that they have fallen and become estranged from God, however, they act upon their own. From God they would hide themselves and also from one another. Nor is it merely their nakedness that they would hide. Actually in every aspect of life they must hide something from each other. Sin is secretive and breaks a pure and open fellowship. The blessed communion and companionship of Paradise is shattered, for sin is essentially divisive.”  [Young, pp. 7-71].

Sin’s Consequences [3:14-19]. [14]  God asks the serpent no questions, for the serpent has no right to speak before God. To the man and his wife God intends to show mercy, but not to that power which has used the serpent. The serpent therefore receives his due rebuke and judgment. It is the consistent teaching of the Bible that sin deserves punishment. The absolute justice of God requires that the sinner be punished for his transgressions. Punishment, therefore, is not for the purpose of reforming the sinner but to vindicate and satisfy the absolute justice of a Holy God. Nor is punishment properly conceived as the natural process which man’s sinful acts sets in motion. It is not merely the unhappy consequence that follows upon man’s sin, but is rather a judicial penalty which God’s judgment inflicts. The purpose of the curse pronounced upon the serpent is to make clear that there had been a deep-seated wickedness using it, and so the curse of a perpetual degradation was a forerunner of that eternal reproach which was to come upon the one who had used the serpent. The punishment which fell upon the serpent was really a symbol of the deeper punishment to strike the evil one. [15]  Almost imperceptibly the language passes from the actual serpent to address the evil one who has used the serpent. In verse fourteen the serpent had been in the foreground, and in the present verse the tempter himself appears. We do well to note that God is in control of the situation. How boastful the tempter had been. Without hesitation he had promised the woman freedom from God’s commands. In doing this he did not show much originality. This is to be expected, for Satan is not original. The old line which he used on Eve in Eden is the same one that his followers have constantly been repeating. He appealed to Eve to seek the opportunity to enlarge her personality, to obtain the freedom necessary to give full expression to her own potential, to break the bonds of public opinion and especially the shackles of religion. In breaking away from God, she thought she could obtain true freedom. This was the first time that the tempter had used this approach on a human being. But Satan has kept at it ever since, and all too willingly the sinful heart of man, already prejudiced in his favor, has listened to him. How strange that the tempter must now listen to the curse pronounced upon himself by God? Where now are his power and his wisdom? Where now is the daring which led him to raise himself above the Creator of all things? He says not a word for he is in the presence of the righteous Judge of all the earth. There is only One that can overcome the tempter; only One who can cause him to be silent and to listen, and that is God. But in the midst of God’s judgment on the evil one is a proclamation of good news, an announcement to sinful fallen man that God will do something to bring blessing to him. The heart of the Biblical message is found in this verse. And the heart of that message is redemption. In a position of emphasis, standing at the beginning of the verse as we read it in the Hebrew, is the word enmity. That word overshadows all else, and sets the tone for the entire verse. It expresses the very essence, as it were, of the deliverance which God is declaring to mankind. Why is such prominence given to this word? If Adam is to be delivered from his lost condition, he must learn who his true enemy is. He must learn that what he needs is something so all-embracing and revolutionary that a complete change of viewpoint is demanded. Adam’s loyalties must undergo a radical transformation. Unless Adam and Eve come to realize that God is their friend and the serpent their enemy, they will be basically mistaken about all things and in a fundamental sense will misjudge all things. The ‘knowledge’ after which rebellious Adam sought was a knowledge of things in which God had no part. It was a sad way, for no matter how noble and praiseworthy fallen man may assert that it is, the way of disobedience to God’s commands leads, as with Adam, unto everlasting death. If Adam must then learn to hate the serpent and to be at enmity with him, he must also learn to love God. God had all along been his friend, and the tempter his enemy, but Adam, inasmuch as his own heart was darkened by sin did not recognize the true state of affairs. If then Adam is to learn to love God there must be a complete reversal of his attitude. If he is to love God he must obey God and must realize that in disobeying God he had done a despicable thing. Since Adam, in his fallen state, is not able to see the tempter as his enemy, God takes the initiative: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. If God does not act, there can be no hope for man. What is the nature of this enmity between the human kind and the kingdom of evil? What does he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel mean? What is meant is that the seed of the woman will deliver a capital blow, whereas the serpent for his part will deliver a lesser blow. The very language is evidence that God is speaking to one more powerful than a serpent; the one who used the serpent for his evil purposes. To place enmity between the serpent and the woman is to point to something higher than a snake, for how can a mere snake be at enmity with a human being? Here God is speaking about the kingdom of evil. It is the head of that kingdom himself who is brought to the fore and the kingdom is as it were hidden behind him. Here is to be a decisive victory. Not merely will the kingdom over which the evil one rules be defeated, but the very head of that kingdom will receive the capital blow. The way in which man will vanquish Satan is that there will be born of woman One, even Jesus Christ, who will obtain the victory. With evident allusion to this passage Paul declares: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you [Rom. 16:20]. Satan is to be bruised! It is a remarkable, almost unbelievable truth. God will not allow man to perish but is determined to save him. And with this verse we are introduced to the plan of salvation. Much is still dark: we do not have the clear light of day that the New Testament brings. Even from this verse, however, we learn that God is taking the initiative. He will do for man what man cannot do for himself. He will introduce enmity and the woman’s seed will deliver a blow that will destroy the evil one. In this verse there does shine through, and that very clearly, the grace of a Redeemer God. [16]  Although the grace of God is shown in the warfare which is to extend until the Seed of the woman delivers the decisive destructive blow, nevertheless, God manifests His justice also in that the woman is punished. No curse is pronounced upon either the woman of the man. To Satan God had directed a curse, but not to mankind. There are indeed, words of reproof, and these are well deserved, but how gentle they are in comparison with what God spoke to the tempter. And it is well to note that only after God had made a declaration of salvation, does He rebuke the woman and the man. [17-19]  In hearkening to the voice of his wife Adam had forfeited his position as the crown of creation and the head of the wife, and had placed himself into the subordinate position which belonged to the woman. Instead of showing her the way in which she should walk, he had yielded to her direction and sinned against God. Adam’s act was not one of ignorance. Well did he know that God had forbidden to him the fruit of this particular tree. Despite God’s command, he had disobeyed. It is folly to speak of men loving God, when their hearts are inclined to the evil. Knowing full well what God desired of him, Adam chose to do the opposite. Because of man the curse is pronounced upon the ground. Is it not apparent that sin disturbs and disrupts all normal relationships? In the original creation God had ordained a harmonious relationship among all His creatures and also between Himself and them. No longer, however, does this relationship obtain. In seeking to rise above God man had destroyed that relationship. Adam is to eat of the ground. It will not deny him its produce, but his eating will be in sorrow. No longer will the earth produce with the ease that was characteristic of Eden. Not willingly and freely will the earth produce the food which will sustain man and keep him in life. Instead it will bring forth thorns and thistles which will choke out the sustenance-producing plants. Having been formed of the dust of the ground man is to return to that dust. Man had wanted to be like God, but he is only dust. Here is the culmination of the threat you shall surely die. Death is not the natural end for man, but a tragic punishment for his disobedience.”  [Young, pp. 94-139].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Note the craftiness of the serpent in his approach to Eve. What was Eve’s first mistake? What should she have done? What, in effect, was Adam and Eve telling God when they chose to eat the fruit? What do we learn here about the nature of sin; about dealing with temptation?
  2. In 3:14-24, we are told the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. Describe how God reveals His justice, mercy and grace in these verses. Why must God take the initiative in providing salvation to sinful mankind? What effect did their sin have on the created order?


Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, B & H Publishers.

Genesis, Bruce Waltke, Zondervan.

Genesis 3, Edward Young, Banner of Truth Trust.