Satan came to Eve in disguise. That epitomizes the subtle way he intended to deceive her. He appears to have singled her out for this cunning deception when she was not in the company of Adam. As the weaker vessel, away from her husband, but close to the forbidden tree, she was in the most vulnerable position possible.
Notice that what the serpent told her was not only plausible; it was even partially true. Eating the fruit would indeed open her eyes to understand good and evil. In her innocence, Eve was susceptible to the devil’s half-truths and lies.
The serpent’s opening words in verse 1 set the tenor for all his dealings with humanity: “Has God indeed said … ?” Skepticism is implicit in the inquiry. This is his classic modus operandi. He questions the Word of God, suggesting uncertainty about the meaning of God’s statements, raising doubt about the truthfulness of what God has said, insinuating suspicion about the motives behind God’s secret purposes, or voicing apprehension about the wisdom of God’s plan.
He twists the meaning of God’s Word: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” God’s commandment had actually come to Adam as a positive statement: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:16–17 NKJV, emphasis added). The serpent casts the command in negative language (“You shall not eat of every tree”), making God’s expression of lavish generosity sound like stinginess. He was deliberately misrepresenting the character and the command of God.
It is likely that Eve had heard about God’s only restriction not directly from God, but from her husband. Genesis 2:16–17 records that God gave the prohibition just prior to her creation, at a time when Adam must have been the lone recipient. This concurs perfectly with the biblical truth of Adam’s position as the representative and head of the whole human race. God held him directly accountable. Eve’s instruction and her protection were his responsibility as head of his family. Consequently, the farther she went from his side, the more she was exposed.
In the innocent bliss of Eden, of course, Eve was unaware that any danger like this existed. Even if (as it appears) the serpent discovered her looking at the tree, she was not thereby sinning. God had not forbidden the couple to look at the tree. Contrary to Eve’s statement in Genesis 3:3, God had not even forbidden them to touch the tree. She was exaggerating the rigors of God’s one restriction.
Notice that she also understated the severity of God’s warning, softening God’s decisive tone of absolute certainty (“in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” [Gen. 2:17 NKJV]) to the language of a mere potentiality (“lest you die” [Gen. 3:3 NKJV]).
At this point, however, it seems she was more flustered and confounded than anything else. There’s no reason to assume she was purposely misrepresenting the facts. Perhaps for her protection, to put a fence around the danger, Adam had advised Eve not to “touch” the forbidden fruit. In any case, Eve was doing nothing wrong by simply looking at it. She would naturally have been curious. Satan seized the opportunity to beguile her, and thereby tempt Adam.
The second time the serpent speaks to Eve he does not merely misquote God’s Word in order to put a sinister spin on it. This time he flatly contradicts what God had told Adam. God’s word to Adam was, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17 NKJV). Satan’s reply to Eve was the exact opposite: “You will not surely die” (3:4 NKJV).
Then Satan went on to confound Eve with his version of what would happen if she ate: “God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5 NKJV). This was another partial truth. If Eve ate, her eyes would be open to the knowledge of good and evil. In other words, she would forfeit her innocence.
But buried in the middle of those words is the lie of all lies. It is the same falsehood that still feeds the carnal pride of our fallen race and corrupts every human heart. This evil fiction has given birth to every false religion in human history. It is the same error that gave birth to the wickedness of Satan himself. This one lie therefore underlies a whole universe of evil: “You will be like God” (v. 5 NKJV).
Eating the fruit would not make Eve anything like God. It would (and did) make her like the devil—fallen, corrupt, and condemned.
But Eve was deceived. She “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (v. 6 NKJV). Notice the natural desires that contributed to Eve’s confusion: her bodily appetites (it was good for food); her aesthetic sensibilities (it was pleasant to the eyes); and her intellectual curiosity (it was desirable for wisdom). Those are all good, legitimate, healthy urges—unless the object of desire is sinful, and then natural passion becomes evil lust. That can never result in any good. Thus we are told by the apostle John, “All that is in the world; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16 NKJV).
Eve ate and then gave to her husband to eat. Scripture doesn’t say whether Adam found Eve near the forbidden fruit or she went and found him. Either way, by Adam’s act, according to Romans 5:12, “sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (NKJV). That is known as the doctrine of original sin. It’s one of the most important, truly foundational doctrines in Christian theology, and therefore certainly worth the effort to understand in the context of Eve’s story.
John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2005), 10–13.
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