In the beginning. Part 3: The first sin
Written, July 2004
Temptation and its consequences
The first human beings, Adam and Eve lived as husband and wife in the garden in Eden. They were innocent and felt no shame. There was no sin and nothing to be ashamed about. God told them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). In this article we look at the next episode in the early history of mankind in Genesis 3:1-19.
Here we see a new character introduced, which is “nachash” in Hebrew (v.1). Is this a mythical creature, or an animal called a snake or someone that was like a snake? The words associated with “nachash” in Genesis 3 are “wild animals” and “livestock”, which refer to animals (v.3,14); and “you will crawl on your belly” and “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, which could refer to snakes as we know them today (v.14,15).
“Nachash” occurs in six other verses written by Moses. The descendants of Dan are likened to a snake in a metaphor (Gen. 49:17). A staff became a snake when Moses and Aaron visited Pharaoh, and Moses made a bronze snake to heal the Israelites who had been bitten by venomous snakes (Ex. 4:3; 7:15; Num. 21:6, 7,9). So, Moses used the word in both a literal way and a symbolic way and he seems to make the meaning clear in each instance.
Paul treats it as a real historical event and not an allegory: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3). The only other occasion he used the Greek word for serpent “ophis”, was when he said the Israelites “were killed by snakes” (1 Cor. 10:9). Therefore, the meaning for the Israelites to whom Genesis was written was an animal called a snake. But this was a talking animal! Now that is unusual, but according to the Bible, God caused Balaam’s donkey to speak and Peter accepted this as truth (Num. 22:28-30; 2 Pt. 2:16). So, some amazing things have happened in the past!
John helps us to understand what is going on when he described Satan metaphorically as a serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In fact, snakes have become the universal symbol of Satan. So Satan appeared in the garden in Eden as an animal that talks. We don’t know what he looked like, but Eve was not afraid to have a conversation with him. This animal was more cunning than any other creature God had made (v.1). It was Satan in disguise, as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). God allowed Satan into the garden and allowed him to tempt Eve because God made mankind with a free will to make moral choices. This was a part of being made in the image of God.
The tempter asked Eve a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (v.1). He was trying to get her to doubt God’s word and distrust God’s love by thinking that such a command was not fair. She answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2-3). Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die” (v.4). This is a lie; it is opposite to what God told Adam (Gen. 2:17). But he is cunning because it relates to a future event which she couldn’t verify herself. Of course, she could have checked with Adam or God, but she was deceived when the tempter backed up the lie with a distorted truth, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v.5). He mixed truth and error. Their eyes would be opened, but it would be to sin and shame. Also, they would know good and evil, but it would be through the harsh experiences of life lived apart from dependence upon God. The tempter implied that they would have great knowledge be able to see things like God does and do whatever they wanted to. He also questioned God’s motives for the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. With this in her mind, Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Here we see that she was mixing up what God had told them and what the tempter had told her (Gen. 2:6; 3:5). She was seeking knowledge and wisdom outside the boundaries that had been established by God. Satan had infiltrated her mind.
As she looked at the fruit of the tree she must have thought. It’s good for food and I’m hungry. It’s beautiful and pleasing to the eye, a pleasure to experience, so it must be good (Heb. 11:25). It’s desirable for gaining wisdom. Then “she took some and ate it” (v.6). The thoughts sown in her mind by the tempter resulted in an action; she ate some of the forbidden fruit. She acted independently of her husband and God. She should have consulted with them before acting on such an important matter. Where was Adam at this time? If Adam was with her during her temptation, he should have spoken up and taken his leadership role. It’s always more difficult to resist temptation when we are alone. But evil can triumph if another is silent.
Then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (v.6). It seems as though Adam ate the forbidden fruit when he was given it by his wife; he was not deceived by the tempter—“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). We don’t know what she told him, but the fact that he “was with her” implies that he knew what had happened. He deliberately disobeyed God’s command and acted independently of God. This is the origin of sin. We are all sinners because we are descendants of Adam.
Now we see a radical change in their world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (v.7). But they had always been naked (Gen. 2:25). Something happened inside them. They felt naked, guilty and ashamed, so they fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. This was the beginning of self-consciousness and clothing.
God visited the garden to talk with Adam and Eve (v.8). What a privilege for them to converse with the great Creator! But now they were so guilty and ashamed that they hid from God among the trees of the garden. Fancy trying to hide from the one who made themselves and the trees! It was impossible. This was not a game of hide and seek, it was a garden where joy and fellowship with God had changed into shame and fear and hiding from God. This is the first description of the human conscience.
Now we see how God addresses the situation, He takes the initiative. First He asked Adam, “Where are you?” (v.9). As God would have known their location, this was a rhetorical question. They had moved away from their position of close communion with God. God was asking the head of the human family to consider his new position. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). He was now afraid of God. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11). So, God traces the source of their guilt and fear to their disobedience. Then Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). This is called blame someone else, or pass the buck! He blames God and Eve. But he did acknowledge that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Then God asked Eve “What is this you have done?” (v.13). She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. This is called ditto – blame someone else, or pass the buck once again! Here we see that when called to account by God, sinners excuse themselves. In this case they both ultimately blamed God, who allowed them to be tempted. But, like Adam, Eve did acknowledge having eaten the forbidden fruit.
Now that Adam and Eve have failed the test and acknowledged this to God, what will God do? After all, He had promised that they would surely die, although the tempter had denied this. Now we see some changes in His creation that was originally said to be “very good”. He addressed each of the characters in turn and described what life will be like for them.
God said to the tempter, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v.14-15). God said that the tempter was the ultimate cause of the fall into sin. This curse can be taken at two levels. Firstly, the snake, which is symbolic of Satan, will crawl on the ground. That is the animal as we know it today. The implication is that previously it didn’t crawl on the ground. Eve would have hated this animal because of how Satan had used it to deceive her. This would have been the beginning of conflict between snakes and people. People often fear snakes and seek to kill them by crushing, while snakes generally attack the lower parts of the body. So, this was the beginning of conflict and hatred on earth.
Secondly, Satan and people who follow him will be the enemies of those who follow God. I believe that Eve followed God so she would have hated how Satan had deceived her. Here we have the first promise of the Messiah and a description of the battle between God and Satan. Christ’s victory over Satan is evident in “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. The suffering and death He endured is like Satan striking at His heel. But Christ’s death and resurrection is said to crush Satan’s head, which indicates a decisive victory. Now the genealogies in the bible usually trace descent through men, not through women. The “he” in v.15 was a man who was the offspring of the woman. Jesus Christ was the offspring of Eve in special way; He had a virgin birth. This first prophecy would have only been known in general terms by the Israelites it was written for. But for us today, it sums up the gospel message of the Bible.
Then God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v.16). He brings consequences in two areas of her life. Firstly she will experience pain in childbirth. It may also imply that bringing up her children would be painful at times. So, this was the beginning of pain on earth. Secondly, the relationship between husbands and wives seems to be clarified. It states that the husband is to “rule” over the wife. The Hebrew word is “masal”, which means to have dominion. The same word is used to describe mankind ruling over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26,28). It means that the husband is to lead the wife and the family in a benevolent way. This is a responsibility that husbands should take seriously.
Then God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (v.17-19). Here we see that Adam neglected his leadership role. He listened to his wife when he should not have taken notice. Only take notice when she gives good advice, but not otherwise! God made Adam accountable and spelled out what he had done which led to two consequences. Firstly, God cursed the ground. Adam’s work changed; now it would take painful toil and sweat to make a living. Nature changed and cultivation would be more difficult with the introduction of weeds such as thorns and thistles. This is the beginning of the “bondage to decay” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” in “the whole creation” (Rom. 8:21,22). It is a fallen universe. Secondly, mankind would die. This is the beginning of death for the animals and people of the earth.
How temptation can lead to sin and death
Like Adam and Eve, we are always tempted to go beyond the limits that God has placed upon us. James described the strategy that Satan uses when he tempts mankind: “… each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Sin brings death, including the eternal spiritual death of being separated from God. (Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23).
God does not tempt us to sin. He will test us (Gen. 2:16-17; 22:1, Deut 8:2), but it is Satan who tempts us (Mt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Th. 3:5). In fact Paul called Satan “the tempter” (1 Th. 3:5). Of course he disguises himself and makes the temptation seem to be something good rather than something bad. It begins with our feelings (evil desire). Then James uses the illustration of conception and birth. The pattern is: a temptation (an evil desire based on our feelings) is planted like a seed in the mind, it grows and develops like a baby and leads to the birth of sin, which in turn leads to death. So the evil desire influences the mind and leads to an action which results in death. When the emotions are aroused first, we rationalize instead of thinking rationally. We don’t think properly, for example thinking of an immediate need but not a long term consequence. This is what happened in the garden in Eden and what happens to us as well. We all face temptation and battle the desire to yield to it. Then when we fail once again, we feel guilty.
How to handle temptation
Where is the battle lost? At the beginning, when the temptation is planted in the mind. Eve was defeated after Satan’s first question when she accepted the possibility that God could not be trusted. But God provides a way out for believers, “… He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to get Him to use His supernatural powers for selfish reasons (Lk. 4:1-13). Satan said: “tell this stone to become bread” – get food for yourself; If you worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours – become a king without going to the cross; and, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple – attract public attention. On each occasion Jesus answered with Scripture. He said: we should rely on God for spiritual nourishment; God is the one we should worship; and do not test God. To do this we must know the bible, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we need it. God “has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4).
Fortunately God is greater than Satan and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:4). We should occupy our mind with good things and call on God to help in times of temptation. (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:8).
Lessons for us
The fall into sin is the ultimate explanation for our struggles in life. This pattern of the temptation and the fall into sin occurs daily both individually and collectively. It is the ultimate explanation for the tensions, sickness, suffering, sorrow, heartache, misery, tragedy, fear, guilt, and death. Here is the reason for addictive behaviour, for the passion for power and the lure of wealth and the enticement of immorality. It is the key to understanding humanity and ourselves.
The fall into sin has made us sinners. We are victims of emotional urges. That is a part of human nature. Only God can open our eyes and help us distinguish between right and wrong (Rom. 6:23). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. If we stay sinners then death is the outcome, eternal separation from God. But if we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ, then we have eternal life. So our destiny is either eternal life or eternal death.
In Eve’s case the tempter was a being outside herself as she was sinless and she began with no urge to do wrong. Since the fall into sin, the tempter is within our human nature and we always face the urge to do wrong. We carry a tempter within us wherever we go, he has access to us continually.
Like Adam and Eve, we have real choices in life. God gives us limits and boundaries as well. Are we willing to accept them? We often try and relieve our guilt by blaming someone or something by saying, “It wasn’t my fault; I’m a victim of circumstance”. We don’t like taking responsibility for our behaviour. As the ideal environment of the garden did not prevent the entrance of sin, we shouldn’t blame the surroundings or our situation on our problems. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our responses and behavior.
So, let’s be aware of Satan’s ways of temptation so he does not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). Follow Jesus and use the resources God has given us, such as the Bible.
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world