“The Devil is wildly optimistic if he thinks he can human beings worse than they are.” Thus said the Viennese writer Karl Kraus. Maybe his statement is a bit pessimistic. But the truth lies there. Unless the severity of our disease is correctly recognized, the cure is also not known or desired. The more we minimize sin, the more will grace decline in value (Luther). But how do we minimize sin? One way we minimize sin is by thinking that had we been in Adam or Eve’s situation, we would not have fallen. But the plain and simple fact of the matter is that we would have done exactly the same thing had we been in Adam or Eve’s situation. Romans 5 tells us that Adam was a representative for mankind, just as Christ is a representative for mankind renewed by union with him.
So what, broadly speaking happened in the Fall? Calvin says that unbelief is the root of rebellion, just as faith alone unites us to God. Pride, unbelief and covetousness are the sins that Adam and Eve committed. Let’s take a closer look.
Back in chapter two, God gave a command to Adam (2:17). In a sense then, the whole dispute is about the Word of God. “Did God really say…?” Our passage starts with a word-play. It says that the serpent was “crafty.” This word sounds exactly like the word “naked” used in the last part of chapter two to describe the innocence of Adam and Eve. What does this word-play mean? It means that Adam and Eve wanted to become crafty, like Satan, but only wound up finding out that they were naked. Notice also here in verse one that the serpent was created by God. We learn from the rest of Scripture that Satan was the real player in the form of the serpent. Satan uses the form of the serpent. But the fact that God created the serpent implies also that God created Satan. Satan was originally a good being. We learn from Isaiah 14 about Lucifer’s fall from heaven. The point here is that Satan is not God’s equal opposite, though he would very much like us to think so. The Bible actually tells us that he is the opposite of Michael, the archangel. Luther was fond of saying that Satan may be the Devil, but he is God’s devil.
Notice one interesting fact. Satan got into the garden. We learned several weeks ago that Adam was constituted a priest of the garden. One of the functions of the priesthood was to distinguish between what was holy and what was unholy. Therefore, Adam and Eve should never have let Satan into the garden at all. There was then a sin of omission, something they neglected to do, before there was the sin of commission, that sin of disobeying God’s command.
Satan asks Eve a question. Notice that he attacks Eve. Eve was not created yet when Adam was given the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This fact made Eve dependent on Adam for knowing the command. That makes her more vulnerable to attack. The question that Satan asks her seems like a very simple question, asked in all ignorance, supposedly. However, Satan knows very well what God said. He knows that there was a small prohibition given to Adam. What Satan does is to magnify that prohibition by deliberate distortion. Instead of just one tree that is forbidden, Satan asks if it is true that all of the trees are forbidden to Adam and Eve. His tone is rather incredulous. “Is it true what I heard through the grapevine that I was crawling on?” This whole scheme is done so as to seem innocent to Eve. He wants to appear to be their benefactor, to be on their side. Note also that the word “You” is plural. That means that Adam was present with Eve during this whole discussion, and important point to remember for later. What Satan does is very crafty indeed. He introduces already the idea that we stand in judgment over the Word of God. Satan makes God seem unreasonable in this prohibition. That makes God come to the bar of our judgment, rather than we coming to God’s bar to be judged. Whenever human reason stands over the Word of God in judgment, sin is inevitable.
Satan’s attack works.
Eve’s reaction shows us three things that she did with the Word of God: first, she minimizes God’s Word. God actually said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, this one tree excepted.” Eve says, “Well, we may eat fruit from some of the trees in the garden.” She is already disparaging God’s free gift. So, she minimizes God’s promises and blessings. The second thing she does with God’s Word is to add to it. She adds the phrase “not touch it.” God never said that they were not to touch the tree. He said they were not to eat from it. Eve is already thinking that the prohibition sounds too strict. The third thing she does is to soften God’s Word. This does not really come across in the NIV. The ESV says it better: “lest you die.” The Hebrew here actually indicates that Eve was thinking of the probability of death, or, worse yet, the possibility of death. What had God said? “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Eve minimizes God’s blessings, magnifies the prohibition, and softens God’s promise of wrath against evil.
Satan now knows that he has her. You see, Satan is a bitter enemy of the Word of God, because he knows that our salvation rests on obedience to the Word of God. Once he lured them away from a strict interpretation of God’s Word, he could then openly contradict God’s Word. Notice that Satan never uses the name “Yahweh” to refer to God. “Yahweh,” you will remember, is the name used for God in relationship with His people. It is the covenant name for God. Satan wants God to seem distant. If God is distant, then his punishment will also be distant. That is why Satan directly contradicts God’s Word here. He says, “You have nothing to worry about. See, I know what God’s motives are. God is actually jealous. He doesn’t want you to get too close to Him. That’s why he ‘discouraged’ you from eating of that tree. The reality is that the tree is your passport to fame and fortune. You will be the ruler of your own little world. You don’t have to take orders from God, who is always such a cosmic kill-joy. You can rule over your own destiny.” Satan’s words indicate that he actually wants to rule over Adam and Eve’s destiny. But we must remember that Satan had already fallen from heaven by this time. What Satan really wants is revenge against God for casting him out of heaven. They say that misery loves company. Satan wants to pull as many people down with him as he can. Now, the hideousness of Satan’s accusations against God are revealed when we realize that Satan’s statements are out and out lies. They are not even half-truths. The real truth is that Adam and Eve were already like God. They were made in the image of God. They already knew good and evil, because God had told them that good was defined as eating from all the trees of the garden, and evil was defined as eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This interpretation raises two important questions. If Adam and Eve already knew what good and evil were, then what was the lure of the tree? I would argue that the knowledge of good and evil that the tree was about was the determination of good and evil. The lure, the bait that Satan held out to them was that they could determine for themselves what good and evil was. The sad truth is that all they wound up knowing was evil in their experience. The other question is: what about verse 22 in our chapter, which seems to indicate that somehow Adam and Eve did become more like God? That verse should actually be translated this way, “Behold, mankind had been like us, in knowing good and evil,” with the implication that now, Adam and Eve are no longer like God. See my Accent Translation. Their hearts were darkened. They could no longer tell right from wrong. At this point, as Matthew Henry says, “Our first parents, who knew so much, did not know this-that they knew enough.” When Satan opposed his word to God’s Word, Eve had already so distorted God’s Word that Satan had an easy time in convincing her that God was only bluffing.
In verse six, we learn what made the fruit so appealing. As 1 John 2:16 tells us, the sins of the world come in three categories: the lust of the flesh (the fruit was good for food); the lust of the eyes (the fruit was pleasing to the eye), and the pride of life (the fruit was desirable to make one wise). Sin always looks like that to us as well.
The fruit here is almost certainly not an apple. That idea came from the Latin play on words: malus means “evil,” and malum means “apple.” But nowhere in our text do we find the word apple. In fact, the only specific kind of fruit tree mentioned is the fig tree. We do not know what kind of fruit it was.
Notice finally, the upside-down nature of the fall. Eve listened to the serpent, who was only supposed to be one of those many animals over which Adam and Eve had dominion; Adam listened to Eve, while he should have intervened and thrown the serpent out of the garden; and no one listened to God. Notice again that Adam was with Eve (end of verse 6). The fact that he did not intervene shows us again human nature: men like to abdicate responsibility, and women like to take responsibility.
What were the consequences of the Fall. The immediate consequence is that their eyes were opened. If you stop there, you might think that they got what they were looking for. But then we read on, and see that they only realized that they were naked. When they were first created, they were naked and unashamed. Now they are naked and ashamed. Remember that play on words. They wanted craftiness, but only received a realization of their nakedness.
Then we see their pitiful attempt to cover over their sin. They sow some flimsy fig leaves together to cover themselves. This is very much like what we do. We like to cover over our behavior with a veneer of excuses. “He made me do it,” “I couldn’t help it,” “If only my husband wouldn’t do this, then I wouldn’t do that,” “If only.” The truth is that our excuses are lame and temporary, just like fig leaves. The bad news of our sin will not leave us with any covering that will conceal us from the infinitely holy God. Notice that the fig leaves do not help Adam and Eve much when it comes to God. They have to flee and hide from His presence when He comes! Big help those fig leaves were. Any attempt to justify ourselves is just like Adam and Eve trying to cover themselves with fig leaves. What we really need is some good news. We have seen the very worst news that we could ever see this week. For some of us, it isn’t really news. But some of us might be thinking that we are pretty good people; we go to church, we pay our taxes, we don’t steal or kill, or commit obvious adultery. That kind of thinking is also just fig leaves that will blow away in the wind, or shrivel up in the heat of God’s judgment, leaving us exposed to God’s wrath.
So stop trying to justify yourself, and let God do it for you, for He is the only one who can. You see, Jesus was tempted exactly like Adam and Eve. When Satan came to him, he tempted him with the lust of the flesh: “Tell these stones to become bread, because God has really said;” the lust of the eyes: “Look at all these kingdoms that can be yours for the taking, if you will only worship me;” and the pride of life: “throw yourself down, because surely you are so valuable that god will be sure to protect you.” Jesus responded by correctly quoting God’s Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (no minimizing God’s Word, no adding to it, and no softening of it); “Worship only the Lord God, and serve Him only” (Jesus was saying that He would not worship any false gods like Satan, whereas Adam and Eve worshipped both Satan and themselves); “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (as opposed to Adam and Eve, who tried the most miserable failure of an experiment that ever was). Jesus succeeded in resisting Satan’s temptations where Adam and Eve had failed. Jesus was righteous where humanity had sinned. Jesus has a covering for us that he made himself. Instead of being clothed in our own righteousness, which is like filthy rags, or menstrual cloths, as Isaiah says, we can be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself. That is a lot better than puny fig leaves, which will not stand up in the judgment. We must believe in Him. If we do, then we will be acquitted in the throne room of God. Jesus’ righteousness will be reckoned to our bank account, as it were. Our sin will be forgotten, because Jesus bore our sin on the cross, and did away with our sin by his conquering of sin and death in his resurrection. This verdict of “not guilty” given to us by God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness given to us is called justification by faith alone.
We must also recognize temptation for what it is. It is always a distortion of God’s Word. “Has God really said that sex before marriage is bad? Has God really said that drunkenness is all that bad? Has God really said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one has access to the Father, except through Jesus? Has God really said that anger is murder? Has God really said that lust is adultery? Has God really said that my own righteousness is pure filth? Has God really said that He is infinitely holy and that I need infinite holiness to get to heaven? It may be true that Satan is wildly optimistic if he thinks that he can make human beings worse than they already are. But what that statement leaves out is the grace of God in changing sinners. God has really said that if you come to him and repent of your sin, which means to turn away from your sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, you will be saved. God has really said that if you believe in Jesus Christ, you will receive the Holy Spirit. God has really said that if you have the Holy Spirit, then there is hope for improvement in the Christian life, and that you are no longer enslaved to sin. God has really said that there is hope, even if you do not see it. God has really said that He is love. God has really said that he loved the world in this way: that He gave his one and only-begotten son, that whosoever should believe in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. So let us not be snake-charmed, deceived as Eve was, or sin knowingly, like Adam did. Let us obey the Word by believing in Jesus Christ.