“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’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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. 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
The path to sin begins when we question the truthfulness of God’s revealed Word. When we doubt His Word, we undermine His authority in favor of our own self-righteous authority that decides for ourselves what is good and evil.
The introduction of the serpent begins not with a question of accusation, but with a description of craftiness – malicious deception. The word “`arum” is used 11 times in the Old Testament. Eight of those times are found in the book of Proverbs and is translated as “prudent” or “wise”. For example: Proverbs 13:16 (ESV) states “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.” The word is used primarily to indicate subtlety of wisdom or intelligence. A prudent man doesn’t act brashly or call attention to himself.
The other three times the word is used it is in a negative context – twice in Job (5:12, 15:5), and once here in Genesis 3:1. In each instance, the connotation of the word is that of one who is maliciously, subtly deceptive. We typically ascribe identification of the serpent in the garden to Satan himself, and there is good reason for this as we know that Jesus makes this identification Himself in John 8:44 as He confronts the “Jews who had believed in Him” (8:31), but apparently no more as they were seeking to kill Him (8:40): “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
But what is the lie that the serpent tells in the garden? His first question to Eve was simply to plant a seed of doubt: “Did God actually say ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:2) The first tool that Satan, as the father of lies, will use to deceive you is to make you doubt the veracity of God’s Word. That is why it is critically important that we know what God’s Word “actually says” in order to be able to refute the lies of the deceiver.
Instead, Eve’s response was to not only repeat back what the restrictions of God’s Edenic command, but she eisegetically added her own interpretation to God’s Word. She injected an even more restrictive command that God didn’t “actually say”: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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.'” The original command of God did not include the prohibition against touching the fruit of the tree. In fact, the command to tend to all of the garden included this tree as well, which would have required some form of contact to care for it, but also to ward others away from eating the fruit.
All too often, we chain ourselves to the tree of legalism by adding to the command of God. While our intentions may be good in an effort to avoid crossing the line into outright disobedience, we shackle ourselves and become so focused on following the rules that we forgive to live the life that we were created to enjoy. We establish our own impossible standards that God never intended for us to be beholden to.
But the serpent knew God’s Word. He knew the truth, but his drive to deception in order to corrupt God’s creation begins with a seed of doubt. “You will not surely die. 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 3:4-5) The phrase “your eyes will be opened” is an idiomatic expression that is in effect an insult, effectively calling Eve a “blind fool” because she lacked the understanding of God. And this understanding would be based on an intimate, experiential knowledge of the difference between good and evil.
And then comes the hook and the bait: “…and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The word for “knowing” in this passage carries a variety of different meanings – all of which fit the context of the passage and all of which offer contribution to our understanding of what is happening here. First of all, the Hebrew word יֹדְעֵי (pronounced “yod-ay”) in the is the same root word that is also translated in Genesis 4:1 in the perfect tense (the past) to reference the sexual intimacy between the man and woman resulting in the birth of their children. However, in this verse, the word is used in the active present participle tense, indicating activity in the present moving into the future. So not only will you experience the knowledge of the difference between good and evil in the moment, you will continue to experience it going forward forever.
Secondly, when you read the original Hebrew from the context of living within a pagan society, you read this passage with a slight nuance as well. In fact, it could be accurately translated within this context as “…you will be “like gods” (כֵּֽאלֹהִים – pronounced “cha-‘elohim”), declaring [what is] good and evil.” Elohim, while it is used to reference the Judeo-Christian God, the word was also commonly used to reference pagan “gods” and is always used in the Hebrew scriptures in the plural form. Satan will puff you up and make you feel like you deserve something for which you were not created for, only to slither away and let you fall. And not only does Eve fall, so goes Adam with her.
The temptation here is not to eat some fruit from a tree. The temptation that Satan dangles at the end of the line is a false liberty disguised as godhood. It’s the idea that you don’t need God, but you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong, what is good and evil. That is the very definition of sin – the rejection of God’s Word in favor of our own.
And yes, their eyes were opened, but what the knew first was exposure. They knew the difference between good and evil now, because they had experienced it. However, along with that experiential knowledge came the consequence of exposure before a holy God. And their first response was to try to hide their shame by their own works with fig leaves. You do not need to experience the difference between right and wrong in order to know what is right and wrong. I don’t need to murder someone in order to know that murder is wrong. I don’t need to lie to my neighbor in order to know that lying is evil. I do not need to lust after someone who is not my spouse to know that adultery of the heart demeans the value of God’s image-bearer in favor of my own appetites. “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
God has given us His word. His word is trustworthy as it is, without our adding to it or taking away from it. That is why it is so important that we study His word for what it says, not what we think it says or what we want it to mean. This is how Satan gets his hooks into God’s people. This is how we fall and become exposed before the holiness of God, when we fail to recognize the promises of serpent for what they are – subtle, malicious lies intent to corrupt the hearts of God’s beloved.