Hold Fast to the Word
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?”
The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing God and evil.”
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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
They heard the sound of the LORD God in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
In churches and Christian circles we like to discuss what mankind’s purpose is in the world. There are sections of many catechisms dedicated to that question, normally answered that man’s purpose is to worship and enjoy God. In fact, the bulk of human history has found mankind in a struggling attempt to find an answer to that question. “Why are we here?” It’s an important question. After all, we cannot fulfill our purpose without first knowing it. But as important as that question is to answer, rarely do we stop and try to figure out the answer to another question. “Why is God here?” It’s probably a reasonable assumption to say that we cannot answer that. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. In a very real sense we cannot know or understand what God’s purpose is for Himself. After all, His name, Yahweh, means “I am,” the “self-existent one.” He told Moses “I am that I am,” or “I exist because I exist,” so it would be the purpose for Himself for which He exists, and we cannot know that, but what we can know is God’s intentions toward mankind. That is revealed in Scripture. God’s desire and intention in the world has been from the very beginning to bless mankind.
In the 1400’s BC Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt and gathered them at Mt. Sinai. It was there that Israel entered into a covenant relationship with God, and it was there that God revealed to Moses what he was to write down for the people. Under God’s direction Moses wrote a history of the Israelite people, and he wrote the Law that spelled out the details of their covenant with God. Moses wrote the passage of Scripture we’re looking at today to communicate to the people of Israel entering into a covenant with God that God would accomplish His original intention of blessing mankind, and that He would do it in spite of man’s sin, which means it will be accomplished by His grace.
The first nine verses of Genesis 3 tells the story of the first man and woman, and we’re going to see them in terms of their relationship with God, and as we go along we’re going to follow the different stages Adam and Eve’s relationship with God went through, and in the end we’ll see what conclusion we should draw about how to understand and guard our own relationship with God.
Phase #1: Man’s Relationship with God is attacked by the assault on God’s Word.
Chapter 2 of Genesis shows the details of God’s creation of the first man and woman, and it defines their relationships, to each other, to the earth, to the animals, and most importantly to God. We find this relationship articulated in verses 16 and 17 of Chapter 2. God has placed two trees in the garden of Eden, and also within the garden He has given the man and his wife everything they will ever need. Now, about these two trees God says, beginning in verse 16 of Chapter 2:
“From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat from it you will surely die.”
And thus, man’s relationship with God was defined by the man’s choice of blessing or cursing for himself. There are a couple of parallel phrases we need to look at briefly. “You may freely eat,” and “you will surely die.” Literally, these phrases read, “eating you will eat” and “dying you will die.” And so, the consequence of eating from either tree was a promise of continuation in the chosen behavior. To eat from the permitted trees was to continue in fellowship with God, but to eat from the other was to break that fellowship.
This is the background our story fits into, so let’s take a look at it. Look at verse 1 of Chapter 3:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.
Now, we could speculate and question and argue all day long about the details of how Satan is using the snake here. That’s beyond the scope of this message, but is one important thing to point out about his identity. Notice that the snake is identified as one “of the beasts of the field.” This points us back to the description of the animals that were created in chapter 2 verse 19. In that verse God was parading the animals before Adam so that he could name them. To give a name to something was to exercise a position of sovereignty or authority over what is being named. So what’s the point? The point is that this snake is identified among the animals Adam had already exercised authority over. In the end, if you’re familiar with the story, it should have been Adam and Eve who banished the snake from the garden, rather than being the ones God banished because they listened to the snake.
And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?”
What exactly is Satan doing doing here? It’s fairly obvious that he’s launching some sort of an attack, and thus begins the first phase of man’s relationship with God in this passage: man’s relationship with God is attacked by the assault on God’s Word. Since Satan can’t thwart God’s plan, his intention is to destroy the relationship within which God bestows blessing. Satan does this by putting a roadblock between mankind and the vehicle that God has instituted to bring about His blessings, which is His Word.
Let’s say you are an upper level supervisor at work, and a supervisor that works directly below you has been treating one of his subordinates really poorly. He insults him in front of his coworkers, he makes him work at needless tasks after hours for no apparent reason. He just makes this guys’ life miserable. He hasn’t come to you, but someone else in the company lets you know. So, rather than call the bullying supervisor in to your office immediately, you want to hear from the guy who’s been bullied, so you call him into your office. When he comes in it’s obvious that he’s extremely stressed out and bothered by what’s been happening to him. You look him in the eye, maybe you put your hand on your shoulder, and you say, “Is what I’m hearing true? Has your supervisor really been mistreating you in the office?” Now, imagine you said that to a different new guy in the company, one whose boss was not mistreating him. Even though his boss was treating him fine, the fact that a third party stepped in and questioned the boss’s character would cause some real doubts.
I really believe this is how we’re supposed to understand Satan’s words to Eve here, as speaking with a feigned attitude of indignant disbelief. “Has God really told you you can’t eat anything from the garden?” “Is God really holding out on you?” What’s Satan doing? He’s sowing doubt in God’s character. Why? If he can cast a doubtful light on the God’s character, he succeeds in casting a doubtful light on the truth of God’s Word, and this is typical of Satan. This is not unique. This is typical. Now, when Satan attacks here, notice that his attack is threefold, with doubting God’s character being the first attack. Also, remember that what Satan is attacking is not God’s Word, but man’s relationship with God. He attacks man’s relationship with God by attacking God’s Word. It’s not God Satan’s after. He’s after you and me.
Believe it or not, we are all susceptible to this particular attack of Satan. This is probably the most common attack. See, sowing doubt in God’s character doesn’t have to mean getting us to doubt whether God is good. It can mean getting us to think that God is too harsh, which pushes us into legalism. It can also mean getting us to believe rules don’t apply to us, that God will forgive us because it’s us. Just to be clear, although God is merciful and forgiving, God will not make an exception for you, or for me. Sadly, a common statement made by ministers who experience moral failure by having an affair or something like that is that they thought that somehow God would let it slide because they had done so much for Him. “Surely God will forgive me. After all, it’s me! Look at what all I’ve done for Him!” Satan tries to get us to question God’s character based on our feelings, but God’s character cannot be known apart from His Word. That is a false division.
Let’s look at Eve’s response in Vs. 2-3.
The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”
There are two tragic errors we find in Eve’s response. The first is that she hardened the command. God never said they couldn’t touch it. I’m not inclined to believe that this misunderstanding should be directly attributed to Satan’s deception. He tricked her, all right, but to say that she added the rule about touching just because Satan asked a question is, I think, a bit of a stretch. The point is that, regardless of how it happened, God’s command was misunderstood and misrepresented. The second error is that she reduced the severity of the consequence. God’s command in 2.17 said, “You shall surely die,” or “dying you will die.” Now look again at what Eve says in vs. 3: “or you will die.” She’s hardened the command and weakened the consequence. Both are tragic errors that we need to guard ourselves from. One leads to legalism, the other to liberality, giving us license to sin in light of Grace. Neither of these can happen.
So how does Satan respond to Eve’s misquotation of God? Look at verse 4:
The serpent said, “You surely will not die.”
This may sound like an odd question, but who exactly is Satan responding to? Is he responding to Eve? Let’s look carefully. In this case I would agree with the KJV, NIV and ESV which translate this verse, “You shall not surely die.” I believe that’s a more accurate translation, because the wording of this phrase is identical, not to what Eve just said, but to what God said to Adam back in Chapter 2. Satan is not denying Eve’s word, but God’s Word. He’s going back to the original command and denying it. This is a bold, direct denial of the truth of God’s Word. If God’s character is shown to be in doubt, then it’s just that much easier for His Word to be shown to be in doubt. So the second type of attack Satan brings is denial of God’s Word. Again, this is typical of Satan, and if you don’t think this is common to Christians, just think about how hard it is to reconcile Scripture with your feelings, and then add a whisper in your ear telling you that your feelings are right, and should be followed over Scripture. We are all susceptible to this attack. So, Satan denies God’s Word, and before Eve can respond he speaks again.
“You shall not surely die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan has sown doubt in God’s character, then he’s denied God’s Word, and now he’s beginning his third attack, which is appealing to lust. If you remember, the forbidden tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan wants Eve to question in her mind whether or not God was holding the “knowledge of good and evil” for them or if God was withholding it from them. Do you see the difference? Let me explain what I mean... “Good and evil” can only be known by two types of beings: the all-knowing, and those who have sinned. “Good” is not known as “good” except to those who also “know” evil, or know everything. God kept this knowledge for them, for their benefit because He alone knew what was good for them and what was not good for them. The word “good” appears 15 times in the first three chapters of Genesis, which is proof of the vast good and blessing God had planned for people to experience. He was also the only One capable of having the knowledge of good and evil and remaining sinless. Without the “knowledge” of evil, only “good” is experienced, but is not known as such, resulting in an existence characterized solely by the pure enjoyment of God. This was knowledge they could not handle and did not need, but Satan was putting a spin on it to make it seem like God was keeping this knowledge from them.
A movie came out a couple of years ago called The Invention of Lying. This movie depicts a world that looks just like ours, only dishonesty has never existed. For some reason the main character, Mark, is suddenly able to lie. He tries to explain lying to his friends, but they don’t understand. He tells them his name is Doug, and they go with it. He tells them he’s black, and they go with it. He tells them he’s a one-armed German space-explorer, and they say “guttentag” and ask him when his launch date is. The truth of what Mark was saying never entered their minds because untruth did not exist in their experience. This is how God created us to be, not knowing good and evil, because we cannot handle having knowledge of evil and being expected to choose good. It’s impossible for us to do that because we are not God. But what Satan does is portray the knowledge of “good and evil” as something that would make them like God. Satan’s main lie to mankind is that there is a way to happiness, wisdom, satisfaction and fulfillment apart from God. This is the main threat to man’s relationship with God: the appeal to lust. As a result of this we see the second phase of man’s relationship with God in this passage.
Phase #2: Man’s Relationship with God is threatened when lust distracts from God’s Word.
In Satan’s attack so far we’ve seen him sow doubt in God’s character, which led to the denial of God’s Word, and finally he appealed to lust. If God’s character is not perfect, His Word is called into question, and if His Word is not true then we are free to do as we please. Satan is suggesting that the result of eating the fruit would be knowing what God knows, so as to be free from His leadership. Now, let’s read verse 5 again, and look to see if you can notice any reflection of Satan’s own character in what he says.
“You shall not surely die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
This prediction is a reflection of Satan’s own intention for himself which led to his fall from heaven. According to the prophet Isaiah 14:12-14 Satan was expelled from heaven because he said “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
The spirit of Satan is wanting to be above God. In the New Testament this is referred to as the “spirit of antichrist,” which seeks to make oneself like God.
So Satan appeals to Eve’s lust, which is the same lust that consumed him and caused him to sin against God. In John 8:44 Jesus confronts the Pharisees who were questioning Him, and He says “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” I believe that our sin nature reflects Satan’s sin nature, which is the basic desire to usurp God’s authority and free ourselves from His leadership. A few years ago I asked a coworker, who was an atheist, why he didn’t believe in God. He said, “I don’t like the idea that there’s someone I have to bow down to.” The rejection of God is really the rejection of His authority. Sin is the attempt by a person to be free from God’s standards and to place themselves in a position above God, asserting their own way.
At this point Satan has Eve pretty well hooked. Vs. 6 says:
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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate;
Phase #3: Man’s Relationship with God is broken by disobedience to His Word.
This verse reflects the same three temptations depicted in 1 John 2:16: “lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” “Lust of the flesh,” is pretty easy to understand, “lust of the eyes,” is all too easy to understand, but the “boastful pride of life,” is what did Eve in. She saw that it was “desirable to make one wise.” This word “wise” here is a word with a short definition of “insight,” but rather than meaning “the ability to discern between,” this word refers to “an intelligent knowledge of reason, a process of thoughts resulting in a wise dealing.” Eve wanted to make her own decisions. Eve wanted to figure out her own way. Right from the beginning, mankind is desiring a world with no objective standard, no absolute truth. Do you see anything common to our world today? Eve was the world’s first relativist. Satan knew it was a lie, but Jesus said in John 8 that everything he speaks is a lie. Eve was deceived. Eve sinned, but she sinned in deception. Ignorance is not an excuse in this game. Adherence to the Word of God without fail is what is required, and even though Eve was deceived when she sinned, she still played the devil’s game. I heard a preacher say one time that “you can’t play patty-cake with the devil and not get burned.” She played his game. She went along with his reasoning. “Is God really holding out on you?” “Well, I don’t know.” “Don’t worry! That won’t happen. It’ll all work out to your benefit in the end anyway.” “Hmm...that does sound pretty good...” And so it is with us. Without realizing it we start listening to those thoughts in our head that begin to rationalize and relativize what we know to be true. And so the relativist’s fate is tragic.
As we get into the New Testament we see that the Fall of mankind into sin is blamed on Adam. 1 Timothy 2:14 says “it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” So where was he in all of this? Look again at the verse:
She took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
“To her husband with her.” Where was Adam in all of this? He was right there! He was there all along. A lot of times when we envision this passage we think of Eve being off by herself and then leaving the tree to go find Adam, and then talking him into eating the fruit. That’s not what it says happened. It says Adam was right there the whole time. So why is the sin of all mankind traced back to Adam? Because Adam’s sin was allowing Eve to become deceived to the point of sinning herself, and then willingly taking part in her sin.
So now we move into the third phase of relationship with God: Man’s relationship with God is broken by disobedience to His Word. Eve is deceived and is tempted, and Adam stands by watching, and both of them willingly take part in the one thing God had commanded them not to do. God created them to bless them and have fellowship with Him, and their sin broke the simple fellowship they were created to enjoy. From that point on, no one will ever experience life as it was intended to be enjoyed. As a result of this sin God cursed mankind and the earth, which you can read in the second half of this chapter. This curse is the reason life has unpleasant aspects. It’s the reason work is hard, and the reason child-raising is difficult. It’s the reason that if you fall into a bush you might get stuck by a thorn or bit by a spider. It’s the reason marriage is difficult, the reason Paul had to say, “wives submit to your husbands, and husbands love your wives.”
This verse is the tragedy of mankind, that those who God created to enjoy Him reject Him. So what happens next? Vs. 7 says:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
Remember Satan’s words? “God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” What happened? They’re eyes were opened, yes, and they knew something. Satan is right so far. But what did they know? What they didn’t realize about the knowledge of good and evil is that it’s an experiential knowledge, not an attainment to an enlightened level of transcendent wisdom. They knew that they were naked. They didn’t experience an enlightenment or epiphany. They didn’t come into some great secret knowledge, and they didn’t get any closer to being like God. They realized they were naked. Before, when they were naked, they felt no shame, but now they saw a difference in each other’s bodies they didn’t notice before so they covered themselves up. They felt shame. They felt shame and their only response to that was to hide it.
This phenomenon is what I call the Problem of Religion. Religion is what Adam and Eve were doing when they covered themselves. Remember the two trees, and how I said that the consequence of eating from each was a promise of continuation in the chosen behavior? What they’ve chosen was to attempt to somehow improve their situation apart from God, so they chose to eat from the forbidden tree. The next thing they did was realize they were naked and try to, once again, improve their situation by covering themselves up. This is the problem of religion. There is enough of a sense of God engrained into the fiber of humanity that all around the world people are trying to improve their situation or make themselves more worthy of God, whether it’s to God as we know Him or to some other false god. Either way, just the fact that they’re worshiping and trying to please a god is proof that a sense of the divine exists within all people. But if you want to please God you’ve got to do it His way, according to His Word. All other ways are false.
So what happens next? Verse 8 says:
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
When Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to the differences in their bodies they felt shame and hid them from each other. Their differences were realized and shame was felt so they covered themselves. Now, rather than finding themselves more like God they find themselves aware of the primary difference that now distinguished themselves from God. Guilt. Shame led to covering themselves from each other. Guilt caused them to hide from the presence of God. This word “presence,” in Hebrew is literally “face.” They hid from the “face” of God. They did not want God to look at them. It’s important to point out here that sin is man turning from God. Sin does not cause God to turn away from us. We turn away from Him. The prophet Habakkuk said that God is of eyes too pure to look upon evil. The reason He can’t look upon evil is because those who do evil hide from the face of God. I’m taking some poetic license in saying that, of course, but the point is that God does not turn from people who sin. People turn from God by sinning.
Phase #4: Man’s Relationship with God cannot be repaired apart from God’s Word.
Most translations of the Bible put a paragraph break between verses 7 and 8, and I would agree with that division based on the content, but I’m going all the way to verse 9, and you’ll why in a second. It says:
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
I didn’t want to leave this passage without establishing the fact that in sin man turns away from God, yet God still seeks man. Adam and Eve sinned. The whole plan is seemingly thwarted and ruined at this point, and yet God doesn’t get all bent out of shape, and he doesn’t kill them, even though He said they would die. Now, they did die, spiritually and eventually physically, but God still pursued a relationship with them even after they rebelled and rejected His Word. The fourth phase of relationship that this passage shows is this: Man’s relationship with God cannot be repaired apart from God’s Word.
I mentioned in my introduction that Moses wrote this to communicate to the people of Israel that God would accomplish His original intention of blessing mankind, and that He would do it in spite of man’s sin, and that God’s final plan for mankind will be accomplished by His grace. With that in mind, look at the first part of verse 8, “They heard the sound of the LORD God...” The word “hear” in Hebrew also means “obey.” The word for “sound” is the same word for “voice.” “Hear” and “sound,” are word choices based on the context, but this phrase is found in 21 other places in the Old Testament, mostly in Deuteronomy. “The voice of the LORD God,” is the familiar call to obedience to God in the Old Testament. As one commentator put it, this is “a painful reminder of the single requirement for obtaining God’s blessing: ‘to hear/obey’ the voice of the LORD God.”
In this passage we saw four phases of relationship with God: (1) Our relationship with God is attacked by the assault on God’s Word, (2) Our relationship with God is in jeopardy when lust distracts us from God Word, (3) Our relationship is broken by disobedience to His Word, and now finally (4), Our relationship with God cannot be repaired apart from God’s Word. So what’s the point of all of this? The point is this: Your relationship with God is guarded by obedience to His Word. That’s the whole point of this passage. Guard your relationship with the Word. Read it. Study it. Pray it. Meditate on it. Believe it. Without the Word of God we will never find happiness, blessing, satisfaction or fulfillment. Apart from the Word of God we are hopeless. Apart from obedience to the Word of God we will not be blessed by God. As I said, Moses gave this story to Israel because no one is ready to enter into a relationship with God until they first know why they need it. They need it because God’s covenant requires perfection, and we are imperfect. The Law required fulfillment, and was fulfilled in Jesus Christ in His life and on the cross. God’s intention to bless man will be done in spite of man’s sin. Let me put that another way: If you will accept Him, God’s intention to bless you will be done in spite of your sin. It is done by His grace. We are imperfect, but Christ has offered us His perfection if we would only accept it. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve cover themselves with fig leaves to try to cover over their sin, but at the end of the chapter God provides them with skin coverings from an animal, which is representative of the fact that only God can produce a sufficient covering for isn. The skin coverings are symbols of the righteousness of Christ which we become “robed” in when we believe on Him and accept His forgiveness. Christian people, in light of the grace of God, hold fast to His Word.
God has entrusted us with His Word. Therefore, we must reject every attack on the Word. We cannot stand by and allow the Word of God to go distorted, because if we stand for it once it’s easier to stand for it twice, and the more times we let it go the easier it is for us to compromise our relationship with God. We are watchmen, keepers, guardians of the truth of the Gospel. We must earnestly contend for it, as Jude says.
If our relationship with God is in jeopardy when lust distracts from God’s Word, then we have allowed the Word to be lowered from its correct place of prominence in our lives. The place the Word sits in our life determines how easily we will be distracted by lust. The lower place of prominence it occupies in our life, the easier it will be for our attention to be distracted and pulled away from it. If we allow the Word to have its proper place in our life, we will recognize those attacks and will not be as easily swayed or distracted from the truth.
So what is the proper placement of the Scriptures? The Word of God is the absolute authoritative voice of God to man. No other resource should be used to order our lives. Human wisdom and emotion are not good enough. No amount of intuition, instinct, emotion, gut feelings or hunches--man’s feelings--or scholarship, science, philosophy or psychology--man’s wisdom-- should be used to order the life of a child of God. If you are a child of God, you must listen to the voice of Him who made you, called you, and saved you, and you must listen to Him alone. The foolishness of God destroys the wisdom of man, because real truth is spiritual truth. It is spiritually discerned. It is discerned by the help of the Holy Spirit, and what is discerned is what is revealed in Scripture. There is no real truth apart from God.
The Scriptures must occupy the place of highest importance in our lives. The idea is not to walk with the Scriptures in hand so that you can look down and check yourself. The idea is to walk with the Scriptures right in front of your face so you see everything filtered through the holy and perfect measuring rod of Scripture. Only then will you be pursuing the blessings of God, which He so desires to bestow on you, in the way He intended. So, in light of the wonderful, amazing grace of God, hold fast to His Word.