Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made.
And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?
And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.Genesis 3:1-5 ASV
This chapter details the temptation and fall of humanity and their consequent expulsion from Eden. The tempter is introduced (Genesis 3:1); the temptation is presented (Genesis 3:2-5); the fall of Eve, then Adam, (Genesis 3:6); the consequent shame, loneliness and fear (Genesis 3:7,8); their confrontation with God and their futile excuses (Genesis 3:9-13); the curse of the serpent and the word of hope for mankind (Genesis 3:14-15); the outline of the penalties upon Eve and Adam (Genesis 3:16-20); and their expulsion from Eden (Genesis 3:21-24) are other developments that bring the chapter to its conclusion.
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”
The problem that stands at the head of this chapter is that of understanding what the serpent was.
The near-unanimous opinion of scholars and commentators to the effect that he was a member of the animal kingdom is somewhat perplexing in view of the fact that the grammar of our versions does not support such a view.
This is an indication that he was not a beast at all. Nor does it appear that his becoming a beast following the curse (and one of the lowest of creation at that) is alone sufficient reason for saying that he had been a beast all the time.
Whatever the serpent was, he would appear to have been an UPRIGHT creature and to have been endowed with the gift of speech.
The Scriptures do not provide any hard information enabling a fuller identification of this creature which was used by Satan as an instrument in the temptation.
Of course, the whole person of the serpent that appears in this tragic scene also includes a certain identity with Satan himself, as indicated by Paul’s reference in 2 Corinthians 11:3, the indication there being that the same serpent who seduced Eve is, in this dispensation, engaged in seducing the Church of Jesus Christ.
It needs to be established that the O.T. should be understood only in the light of what is revealed in the N.T.
We reject out of hand the dictum laid down by Biblical interpreters that the text can have but a single meaning, namely, the one “intended by the author.
Indeed, this is true enough if the “author” is understood to be Almighty God. But the supposition that the mind of the instrument through whom God spoke can be explored for the meaning of Biblical passages is false.
There are numerous instances in which the prophets through whom God spoke either did not understand what they wrote at all or had a very improper notion of the full meaning, a fact cited by no less an authority than Peter (1 Peter 1:10-12).
An outstanding instance is that of Amos 8:9. To follow the arbitrary dictum mentioned above would forbid any identification at all of Satan in this entire chapter; for it is accepted that at the period when Genesis was written, any belief in the existence of the Devil “was foreign to the Hebrews.”
Therefore, Satan himself was the person speaking in the serpent of this verse. We cannot identify the instrument, but the Tempter is surely known.
We can confess our amazement that “Christian” scholars would affirm that the serpent here told man the “truth,” that the intention of the serpent was “innocent, and the serpent was “good, etc.
Such views are absolutely wrong. The conversation here begun by the serpent was on the part of the serpent a vicious, malicious lie, craftily designed to seduce and destroy the entire human family.
The device by which interpreters who are blinded and hog-tied by their own man-made rules are able to pass over the conversation of the serpent in this passage as good or innocent is founded upon a false syllogism:
All that God made is good (Genesis 1:31); God made this serpent; therefore, this serpent was good! By this syllogism, one may also prove that the Devil is good. As Skinner admitted, such views are contradicted by the “spirit” of this scripture.
One further word about the identity of the serpent: Yates mentioned a Hebrew tradition to the effect that the serpent walked upright, was gifted with speech, and talked freely with Eve.
God cursed the ground for Adam’s sake; and certainly the ground was innocent enough.
Both the evil that came to this serpent and that which befell the earth itself must be attributed to Satan as having been the primary cause.
“Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden … ?” The purpose of this query was to focus upon the restriction and prohibition which God had made regarding a certain tree, that of “knowledge of good and evil.”
“Ye shall not surely die …” This was a bold and cunning falsehood; and one is a little distressed by the scholars who are still treating this narrative as if the Devil told the truth.
Their error is the same as that of Eve, in that they alter what God said and then claim that what God allegedly said failed to come true.
For example, it is affirmed that God meant that they would, “immediately be struck dead,” or that, “he did not die (physically) immediately as God said,” and that, “It is also true that death does not immediately follow the act of eating,” etc., etc.
All such thoughts are interpretive errors. What God said was that, “In the day that thou eatest, thou shalt surely die,” the day here having no reference whatever to days of the week but to the seventh day of Creation, a day that is still in progress.
It still stands; and in the fullness of time, during that very day when the penalty was incurred, namely during the present dispensation of God’s grace, the death penalty will be executed upon Adam in the person of his total posterity, the redeemed ones in Christ Jesus being the sole survivors of it.
The judgment of the Great Day, which shall terminate the current dispensation, will be the occasion when this penalty will be executed.
“Ye shall be as God, knowing good from evil …”
This also was a lie, skillfully interwoven with a half-truth. “Ye shall be as God,” was a vicious falsehood. Eating the forbidden fruit did not make them “like God” at all, but sent them full of shame, fear, and apprehension into hiding from the loving face of the Creator, whose word they had violated.
The additional knowledge they received was nothing beautiful and desirable at all. It was only that wretched, soul-killing knowledge that comes experientially to every sinner who violates God’s Word.
What an unprincipled and malignant falsehood was Satan’s alluring promise!
It is significant that Satan in this passage used the word [~’Elohiym] for God, presenting a problem that casts doubt upon the various documentary theories regarding the alleged sources of Moses, making those theories “doubtful.
The plurality of the word [~’Elohiym] caused some translators to render this passage, “ye shall be as gods,” but the reference is clearly to the [~’Elohiym] of the first chapter.