A Sneaky Snake

The speaker was persuasive. He was no dummy; he was known for his clever insight. He wasn’t negative or threatening; he offered an upbeat message of new freedom and a new frontier. He wasn’t sour or unfriendly; he sent a clear message that he wanted only what was in people’s best interest, and he suggested an exciting, enjoyable action plan for them to reach their full potential.

They took his advice, and the results were fatal. They ruined their lives, their surroundings, and their offspring. They brought trouble, pain, and death to everything connected with them. They followed a voice that seemed sensible and sweet, positive and promising, but it was the voice of a vicious liar. It was the voice of Satan. He cleverly convinced our first parents, Adam and Eve, to go against God.

What Satan Didn’t Say

Satan didn’t come to Adam and Eve and introduce himself, “Hello there, hated humans. I am the prince of darkness. I am the arch-enemy of God and of everything God cares about. I am a liar and a destroyer. I hate you more than you can imagine. I hate you because I hate God, and you are God’s image. I hate anything that resembles God. I want to ruin you and ruin God’s image in you.”

Satan didn’t explain, “I was once among the most brilliant angels in heaven, until I decided that I should be able to follow my own wishes and not have to obey anyone else, not even God. I decided to knock God off his throne and rule everything myself, and I convinced a lot of angels to join me. But the majority of angels stayed loyal to God, and God wasn’t as easy to topple as I thought. Before my revolution, he seemed so gentle, even when he was giving an order, so I figured he was weak. But when I and the angels with me tried to take over, God unleashed power and wrath such I had never imagined, and my side was utterly defeated.”

Satan didn’t grumble to Adam and Eve, “I have been angry, miserable, and rotten ever since that defeat, and I want to make you humans angry, miserable, and rotten too. I was among the top angels in heaven, but God threw me out. You humans are the top creatures in God’s earthly paradise, but if I have my way, you’ll be thrown out of Eden like I was thrown out of heaven.”

Satan didn’t snarl, “I found out the hard way that I can’t overpower God or drag him from his throne. I can’t hurt the one I hate most, but I’ll do my best to hurt what’s precious to him.  So, Adam and Eve, I’m here to harm you and your world. I can’t do it directly, because you and your world were created very good, and the world will remain immune to pain and death as long as you, the rulers God appointed over the earth, remain sinless. But if I can convince you to disobey God and join my rebellion, you and your world will fall into my clutches. I want your spirits to be dead in sin, like mine, and I want your bodies to die.”

Satan didn’t tell these grim facts to Adam and Eve. He hid his real identity and his real agenda. He came in a form that would impress them, not disgust them, and with words that would attract them, not scare them. Genesis 3 says,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “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.’ ”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (3:1-6).

That was the original sin. If you wonder why there is so much pain and evil in the world today, Genesis gives the answer. It all goes back to the day humanity rejected God and his Word, believed Satan’s lies, and fell under the power of sin and Satan. The Bible says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The temptation and fall of Adam and Eve is the event that led to all our other problems.

In describing this event, Genesis also describes the method Satan used and exposes the sort of tactics that Satan still uses today. The Genesis account doesn’t actually mention Satan. It presents the temptation as Adam and Eve experienced it and mentions only the serpent, not Satan. But elsewhere the Bible speaks of “that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” (Revelation 12:9, 20:2), making it clear that Satan was working through the snake in the garden. Satan was sneaky then, and he is sneaky and deadly now.

A Splendid Speaker

Satan came to Eve in the Garden of Eden as a serpent. Why? Because Eve would be more likely to listen to a serpent than to anything else. That may seem strange; most of us don’t like snakes at all. But in the original creation, the serpent wasn’t like any snake we know. The serpent was more intelligent, and possibly more splendid, than any creature besides humans. After Adam and Eve sinned, God took away the serpent’s attractiveness, made it repulsive, and set snakes and people against each other (3:14-15), but before that, the serpent was impressive.

Let’s not think the Genesis account of a talking snake is a fable or a myth. It is real history. Eve had a real conversation with a real snake. How could that be? How could a snake talk? One possibility is that the conversation between the serpent and Eve wasn’t the first time an animal talked with a human. Such conversations may have been fairly common. Perhaps in the beginning God created some of the higher animals with the ability to speak human words. Or, if animals didn’t know much human  language, perhaps God created Adam and Eve with the ability to grasp various animal languages.

Sound ridiculous? Well, the lack of communication between animals and humans today doesn’t prove there’s always been a lack of communication. Many things in our world are different than God created them. After Adam and Eve sinned, the whole creation, including animals and humans, underwent negative changes. What if humans once had the ability to understand animal languages but lost that ability after the fall? Or what if some animals originally spoke human language, but their vocal equipment and the speech centers in their brains were changed after man’s fall?

Even in today’s world, some animals have signals by which they communicate with their own kind. Bees communicate through complex dances, dolphins signal each other with piercing sounds, and beavers sound alarms by slapping their tails. In fact, some animals can grasp at least a bit of human communication. Some horses and dogs can follow various human commands, a few gorillas can learn simple sign language from humans, and parrots can even speak human words. Is it unthinkable, then, that in the beginning some of the higher animals could have a conversation with humans? Animals were never equal to humans–God created Adam and Eve superior to animals from the start–but that doesn’t prove there was no communication between animals and humans in the Garden of Eden. The Bible doesn’t say whether or not such communication was ever common, so we can’t be sure. But it’s possible that the serpent had talked to Eve before in healthy ways and that Satan took control of this talking animal for his own evil purposes.

Another possibility is that animals and humans didn’t normally talk to each other, and the only time the serpent was able to speak was when Satan supernaturally put words in its mouth. If the serpent had no natural ability to speak on its own, it was still more clever than the other animals, and it would have looked and acted in a way that showed this. Suppose that this cleverest of animals showed up one day, using human words for the first time. If it apparently had found a secret that elevated it, as an animal, to talk at a human level, it might be very persuasive if it spoke of a secret knowledge that could elevate humans to the divine level.

At any rate, whether the serpent was created from the beginning with a natural ability to talk, or whether it spoke for the first time only through Satan’s direction, the bottom line is this: the snake really did speak to Eve on the day she ate the forbidden fruit. Satan chose the serpent as his mouthpiece because it was the smartest thing on earth besides humanity, the most splendid speaker Satan could find to deceive Eve.

Satan is shrewd. Still today he picks the smoothest speaker he can find. Before the human race fell, he had to work through an animal in order to tempt humanity, so he picked the animal most similar to humanity in intelligence. Now that humanity has fallen, Satan likes to pick his mouthpieces from the leading ranks of the human race itself. He likes to use the smartest, most sophisticated people he can find. He will use prostitutes when necessary, but he can do more damage through professors, preachers, and politicians. The more prominent and persuasive the speaker, the more likely people are to listen, and the more likely they are to ignore God.

“Did God Really Say?”

Satan’s first order of business is to make people second-guess what God says. The devil wants us to disbelieve God’s Word and distrust his character. That was the serpent’s method with Eve, and he has used a similar approach ever since.

When God first put Adam in the garden of Eden, “the LORD God commanded the man, saying ‘You may freely 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 die'” (Genesis 2:16-17 RSV). Sounds clear enough, doesn’t it?

But Satan set out to make God’s Word sound unclear, unsure and unfair. He didn’t start with a direct contradiction but with a question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’?” (3:1).

That is still Satan’s favorite question: “Did God really say?” God has spoken to us in the Bible, and the last thing Satan wants is for us to have a clear understanding and complete confidence in God’s Word. Satan raised a question about the message God gave Adam and Eve, and he raises questions about the message God gives us, the Bible. “Did God really say? Are you sure God said that? Are you sure he really meant it? Wouldn’t a different meaning be better? Can you see any good reason God would limit you? What sort of God would say such a thing?”

When Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree’?” the question could mean two different things. It could mean, “Does God say you must not eat from any tree at all?” Or it could mean, “Is there any particular tree from which God says you can’t eat?” Whatever way Eve understood the question, Satan would get her to equate the two meanings: if God withheld anything, it was no better than withholding everything.

Tempting someone to be dissatisfied in the magnificent Garden of Eden was quite a trick. It was like tempting someone who has a mansion, three cars, and a sailboat to be unhappy because they can’t fly their own jet. Still, Satan himself felt deprived even as an angel in heavenly splendor, simply because he couldn’t be God, so if anyone could get Eve to feel deprived in  paradise, Satan would be the one to do it.

Satan’s clever question focused not on what God gave but on what God withheld. Satan didn’t ask Eve, “Did God create you so wonderful and happy?” He didn’t ask, “Did God make this glorious Garden of Eden for you and Adam?” He didn’t ask, “How many different kinds of fruit can you freely enjoy, and how delicious are they?” He didn’t ask, “What sort of God would be so creative, kind and generous?” No, Satan wanted Eve to ignore the good things God gave and to think about what God didn’t give. Today Satan uses a similar scheme: “Don’t be content with what God has given you; your happiness depends on doing what God doesn’t permit and getting something God hasn’t given you.”

How did Eve respond? She didn’t immediately reject God’s Word and take the forbidden fruit. Instead she told the serpent, “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.'” Sounds pretty much on target, doesn’t it?

But already Satan’s strategy was having a subtle effect. If we compare Eve’s words with what God said earlier, we see that Eve dropped two small things and added one. God said, “You may freely eat of every tree” except one, but Eve dropped “freely” and “every” and merely told the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees.” Her words didn’t ring with quite the same generosity as God’s original words. Concerning the one forbidden tree, God had said simply, “You shall not eat,” but in Eve’s version, she added, “and you must not touch it.” Her words were more restrictive than God’s original words. These may seem like small changes, but even small changes in God’s Word can be more serious than we realize. The Bible says, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2). Eve’s answer seemed okay, but her wording–less generous and more restrictive than God’s words–showed that her thinking had shifted somewhat in the direction Satan wanted.

Satan saw an opening and went for it. When Eve mentioned God’s warning that the forbidden fruit would bring death, the serpent said, “You will not surely die.” Earlier he had only raised questions about God, but now he blatantly contradicted God’s Word. God said, “You will surely die.” Satan said, “You will not surely die.” In a similar way, when the Bible warns us that we must have a relationship to Jesus Christ or else suffer in hell forever, Satan says, “You won’t go to hell. God would never punish you that way.” When you hear someone deny God’s Word and God’s judgment, that person is speaking Satan’s lies.

You Will Be Like God”

Satan accused God of lying, and he offered an explanation of why God would make empty threats. “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). According to Satan, God was thinking of himself, not Eve’s wellbeing. The only reason God didn’t want Eve to eat the fruit was that it would make her godlike. Why should God have divine status all to himself? Why trust a God who wouldn’t share his divinity? Why obey God, as though he was superior? Why shouldn’t Eve rise to God’s level?

Eve took a closer look at the fruit. It didn’t look dangerous. It looked nourishing. It looked beautiful. If it could give her wisdom to match God’s wisdom, why not try it? The more Eve looked, the more she wanted it. How could it be wrong if it felt so right? “She took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband and he ate it.” (Sin like company. If you do what God forbids, you want others to join you and do what you’ve done.)

The moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit, something in them died. Contrary to Satan’s promise, they did not become like God. They lost much of the holy image of God in which they had been created, and they became more like Satan: shameful, fearful, resentful, no longer in fellowship with God. Death immediately poisoned their spirits and would claim their bodies eventually. Satan had said, “You will not surely die?” God had said, “You will surely die.” Guess who lied?

Satan the liar loves to turn things upside down. Instead of honoring the Lord as the one and only God, Satan wants to lower our opinion of God and raise our opinion of ourselves. One way Satan nudges us down this path is to get us to ignore the lines of authority which God established. Animals were to be ruled by people, but in Satan’s scheme, Eve took her cue from an animal. A wife was to be led by her husband, but in Satan’s scheme, Adam took his cue from Eve. God’s order of creation was Adam first, then Eve. Satan’s order of temptation was Eve first, then Adam. God gave his command to Adam, and Adam told Eve. Satan told his lies to Eve, and she passed them along to Adam. Satan loves to undermine every line of authority God has set in place, and his ultimate goal is always to defy the authority of God himself.

The idea of having godlike status is popular still today. Actress Shirley MacLaine says, “Everyone is God. Everyone.” Writer M. Scott Peck says, “Our unconscious is God … We are born that we might become, as a conscious individual, a new life form of God.” These are new versions of Satan’s same old lie.

The Re-Imagining movement of radical feminists from various churches has emphasized that God is female and that each female is God. As a Re-Imagining conference program put it, “I found God in myself, and I loved her. I loved her fiercely.” The crowning moment occurred when each woman at the conference took a large red apple and bit into it, reenacting and celebrating how Eve ate the forbidden fruit. “To bite the apple,” they said, “is to recommit ourselves to resisting all those forces who oppress us.” Their hatred of men, hatred of God, and hatred of the Bible were all expressed in eating that fruit. These were church women, but they oppose the biblical church. Mary Ann Lundy a Re-Imagining leader and Deputy Director of the World Council of Churches, said, “We are learning that to be ecumenical is to move beyond the boundaries of Christianity.”

What does the Bible say about moving “beyond the boundaries of Christianity”? The Bible says, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches to you a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached … or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough… Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4,14-15).

Adam and Eve lost paradise when they stopped listening to God and listened to Satan instead. We can regain paradise only if we stop listening to Satan and listen to God. When Adam and Eve felt utterly downcast and defeated after falling for the serpent’s lies, God promised that their offspring would crush the serpent’s head. That promise concerned not just humans stepping on snakes, but humanity trampling Satan himself. That happened when Jesus resisted all temptation, died to pay for human sin, and rose from the dead. What Adam lost for all of us, Jesus regains for all who put their faith in him.

Now that you’ve heard about the original sin and Satan’s ongoing campaign against humanity, be sober and alert, but don’t be discouraged or despairing. Instead, put your faith in Jesus, the Savior who can undo all the damage of sin and Satan. You can resist the devil and make him flee, but only in the power of Christ. You can escape slavery to Satan’s lies, but only when you know the truth and the truth sets you free. You can defeat death and enjoy eternal life, but only through the life of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

Satan told Eve that she needed to know both good and evil, but God says in the Bible, “Be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Then it adds this promise: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:19,20).