Enter the Serpent

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]

Chapter two of Genesis ends with a seemingly ideal world: God has finished creation, and made a helper for man – the woman. One would think, if this were a Hollywood film, the scene would fade out and move on to the end credits. There’s no need to expand, and everything could, at this point, make for a classic case of “they lived happily ever after.” In fact, I’ve personally known one or two liberal Christians who would argue that we should end the biblical story here. Unfortunately for all these sentiments, that isn’t how the story goes.

Suddenly, in the midst of this perfect, ideal world, enters the character of the serpent. This is no ordinary serpent, but Satan in disguised. He is identified as such later on, in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2. Satan appears as a serpent because Eve would never have listened to an obvious devil, hence a disguise was needed. It is the nature of Satan’s deception to make evil appear as good and unnatural as natural. If need be, Satan can even appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Adam and Eve will not realize this, hence their being deceived. Unfortunately, many today still do not understand, hence the growing number of those in heretical or cult groups, or those under the sway of false teachers. Mark my words: when Satan comes to deceive you, he will not come with horns and a pitchfork – he will come with a smile and a Bible.

Satan first sets his sights on the woman. This is not because women are inherently weak-minded or woefully inadequate as believers (as some have perceived the reason to be), but rather for a two-fold purpose: 1) not only as an affront to God (who had made the woman), but as an affront to Adam, who was the head of the household and so responsible for Eve – many, when seeking to attack a man, attack not him but his wife or loved one; 2) Satan knew that, if he could deceive the woman, the husband would follow suit (as happens in verse 6). Before we become too hard on Eve, we should remind ourselves that Adam deserves equal blame for this situation: had he been responsible for his household (and verse 6 makes it clear Adam “was with her,” either nearby or some distance away) he would have protected his wife from deceit and trained her to spot the enemies of God.

The most interesting aspect of Satan’s dialogue with Eve is his use of God’s word. It is not below Satan to quote scripture, but he is never good at it. He almost always does one of three things: 1) maligns it (as he did before); 2) misquotes it (as he does here); 3) misuses it (as he ‘ll do in the following verses). Permit me to explain each:

Maligns it. Satan begins his dialogue with the woman with the words: Did God actually say? There have been many discussions on what the very first temptation of man was, and many have put forward that it was the temptation to break fast (ie., eating the fruit). However, I would put forward that the first temptation ever given to man was doubt God’s word. We see that here, with Satan doubting that God had indeed spoken. We see this again when Satan tempts Christ in the desert, attempting to seed doubt regarding His Sonship despite God the Father having declared it so (Matt 3:17, 4:3). Satan tempts us to doubt God’s word for two reasons: 1) there is no greater disrespect towards God than to doubt His word; 2) Satan knows that if we can doubt even a syllable of God’s word, it will be the proverbial camel’s nose to get us out of the house of God. If we can doubt God has spoken, we can doubt anything God has said. Heresy and error (even some heterodox errors) begins when men doubt the clarity or finality of God’s word, and think more needs to be added or some needs to be taken out. Some say God has not spoken at all, and hence they look to themselves to speak. Some say God has not spoken with clarity, and so they look to an external authority to speak. Some say God has not spoken enough, so they look for those with supposed prophecy and revelation to speak. When the devil tempts us with the words “Hath God said?”, we must give a hardy AMEN!

Misquotes it. Satan refers to what God had said in Gen 2:16-17, but he completely distorts it. God had originally said: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.” Here Satan rewords it to: “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.” This is an outright lie and distortion. God had permitted all trees to be eaten, with the only condition being a ban on the eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God is always taking God’s commands and making them appear as an unjust burden and an attack against our proposed freedom. This continues even today: God permits sexual freedom within the confines of marriage, but society makes this appear as the highest of celibacy; God permits alcohol drinking, but not alcoholism, yet society makes this appear as the strictest of fasts. True slavery, however, is found in sin (John 8:34), and only the Son can set us free from it (John 8:36). The greatest lie sin can give us, then, is to make us perceive that we aren’t slaves to begin with (John 8:33). Until we find freedom in the Son, all of creation is under the bondage of corruption (Rom 8:21).

Misuses it. Eve confronts Satan by correctly quoting what God had said in Gen 2:16-17, and it would seem that Satan has lost round one…or has he? A master of rhetoric can use any situation in his favor, and with weapons of words provided by his opponent. We see this when the serpent switches strategy. “All right,” he says, “you want to use God’s word? Let’s use God’s word!” Satan used the same tactic against Christ, turning to scripture once Christ had quoted scripture (Matt 4:4, 6). In this case, Satan now reinterprets what God had said: “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” (Gen 3:4-5). The devil, from the very beginning, was a liar (John 8:44), and here he makes that clear. Satan darn well knew what God meant with His original wording, but is willing to distort God’s word to serve his needs (there’s no difference with many of today’s false teachers). What’s more, Satan presumes to know God’s thoughts and exposit on them. Note here that it is fine to know God’s thoughts from scripture, but not apart from scripture. Any form of “private revelation” must be held up to scriptural authority. Where God has spoken, let us speak – where God has kept silent, let us keep silent. This is important especially today: if any claims to have direct words from God, let him print it out and put it in their Bible…or let them keep silent.

This last technique is that which works, convincing Eve (and then Adam) to eat from the forbidden tree. In like manner does Satan tempt many today. So many fall under the sway of false teachers today because God’s word is not enough. They cannot repeat the words of the Psalmist when he said “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psa 119:16), or prophet Jeremiah when he prayed to God “your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16). Initially, when I left Eastern Orthodoxy, I became worried about those who submitted themselves to the extra biblical authority of a visible body, but now I worry about those who are under the sway of men proclaiming themselves to be prophets and are receiving continual revelation from God. They use scripture secondarily, reinterpreting it to fit their own theology and to advance their cause. They, like the devil, are claiming to know the insights of God, often contrary to what God has said.

It should be noted, however, that simply because Satan uses scripture does not mean God’s word is near useless. We should not come to the conclusion that, because God’s word can be used against God’s word, we should not rely on it completely, or that absolute truth cannot come from it (as some Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and postmodernists do, though for varying purposes). As we said before, Satan’s nature is to take that which is good and use it for evil – yet this does not mean that which is good should be devalued. That Satan appeared as a serpent does not mean serpents are inherently evil: God used a serpent of His own to kill the serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians (Exo 7:8-12), and our Lord instructed His disciples to be wise as serpents (Matt 10:16). In like manner, just because Satan may use God’s word for evil does not men God’s word is devalued. Imagine if Adam and Eve had simply remembered what God had truly said, and why He had said it. There would have been no Fall, and man would have remained in paradise with God. As it happens, they forgot God’s word, they accepted the lies of the devil, and thus they sought out other forms of wisdom and fell from their glorified position.

On this day, Reformation Day, let us remember to cling to the word of God and rest upon that as our rock alone. There has been no other authority given to us except God’s word, for there is no other authority alone but God. Let us be on the watch for anyone who, in whatever form they choose to do so, will tempt us with the words, “Hath God said?” God bless.

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