|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-5 Satan assaulted our first parents, to draw them to sin, and the temptation proved fatal to them. The tempter was the devil, in the shape and likeness of a serpent. Satan's plan was to draw our first parents to sin, and so to separate between them and their God. Thus the devil was from the beginning a murderer, and the great mischief maker. The person tempted was the woman: it was Satan's policy to enter into talk with her when she was alone. There are many temptations to which being alone gives great advantage; but the communion of saints tends very much to their strength and safety. Satan took advantage by finding her near the forbidden tree. They that would not eat the forbidden fruit, must not come near the forbidden tree. Satan tempted Eve, that by her he might tempt Adam. It is his policy to send temptations by hands we do not suspect, and by those that have most influence upon us. Satan questioned whether it were a sin or not, to eat of this tree. He did not disclose his design at first, but he put a question which seemed innocent. Those who would be safe, need to be shy of talking with the tempter. He quoted the command wrong. He spoke in a taunting way. The devil, as he is a liar, so he is a scoffer from the beginning; and scoffers are his children. It is the craft of Satan to speak of the Divine law as uncertain or unreasonable, and so to draw people to sin; it is our wisdom to keep up a firm belief of God's command, and a high respect for it. Has God said, Ye shall not lie, nor take his name in vain, nor be drunk, &c.? Yes, I am sure he has, and it is well said; and by his grace I will abide by it. It was Eve's weakness to enter into this talk with the serpent: she might have perceived by his question, that he had no good design, and should therefore have started back. Satan teaches men first to doubt, and then to deny. He promises advantage from their eating this fruit. He aims to make them discontented with their present state, as if it were not so good as it might be, and should be. No condition will of itself bring content, unless the mind be brought to it. He tempts them to seek preferment, as if they were fit to be gods. Satan ruined himself by desiring to be like the Most High, therefore he sought to infect our first parents with the same desire, that he might ruin them too. And still the devil draws people into his interest, by suggesting to them hard thoughts of God, and false hopes of advantage by sin. Let us, therefore, always think well of God as the best good, and think ill of sin as the worst evil: thus let us resist the devil, and he will flee from us.
Verses 1-7. - How long the paradisiacal state of innocence and felicity continued the historian does not declare, probably as not falling within the scope of his immediate design. Psalm 49:12 has been thought, though without sufficient reason, to hint that man's Eden life was of comparatively short duration. The present chapter relates the tragic incident which brought it to a termination. Into the question of the origin of moral evil in the universe it does not enter. The metaphysical problem of how the first thought of sin could arise in innocent beings it does not attempt to resolve. It seeks to explain the genesis of evil with reference to man. Nor even with regard to this does it aim at an exhaustive dissertation, but only at such a statement of its beginnings as shall demonstrate that God is not the author of sin, but that man, by his own free volition, brought his pristine state of purity and happiness to an end. A due regard to this, the specific object of the Mosaic narrative, will go far to answer not a few of the objections which have been taken to its historic credibility. Like the Mosaic record of creation, the Biblical story of the fall has been impugned on a variety of grounds.
1. The doctrine of a fall, which this chapter clearly teaches, has been assailed as inconsistent with the dictates of a speculative philosophy, if not also with the tenets of a Scriptural theology. While in the present narrative the origin of sin is distinctly traced back to the free volition of man acting without constraint, though not without temptation, in opposition to the Divine will, a more exact psychological analysis, it is alleged, declares it to have been from the first a necessity, either
(1) metaphysically, as being involved in the very conception of a finite will (Spinoza, Leibnitz, Baur); or
(2) historically, "as the expression of the necessary transition of the human race from the state of nature to that of culture" (Fichte, Kant, Schiller), or as developing itself in obedience to the law of antagonism and conflict (John Seotus Erigena, Hegel, Sehleiermacher, Schelling); or
(3) theologically, as predetermined by a Divine decree (supralapsarianism). Without offering any separate refutation of these anti-Scriptural theories, it may suffice to say that in all questions affecting man's responsibility, the testimony of the individual consciousness, the ultimate ground of appeal, apart from revelation, affirms moral evil to be no all-controlling necessity, but the free product of the will of the creature.
2. The narrative of the fall has been impugned -
(1) On the ground of its miraculous character. But unless we are prepared to equate the supernatural with the impossible and incredible, we must decline to admit the force of such objections.
(2) On the ground of its mythical form, resembling as it does, in some slight degree, Oriental traditions, and in particular the Persian legend of Ormuzd and Ahriman (vide infra, 'Traditions of the Fall'). But here the same remark will apply as was made in connection with the similarity alleged to exist between the Mosaic and heathen cosmogonies: it is immeasurably easier and more natural to account for the resemblance of Oriental legend to Biblical history, by supposing the former to be a traditional reflection of the latter, than it is to explain the unchallengable superiority of the latter to the former, even in a literary point of view, not to mention ethical aspects at all, by tracing both to a common source - the philosophic or theologic consciousness of man.
(3) There are also those who, while neither repudiating it on the ground of miracle, nor discrediting it as a heathen myth, yet decline to accept it as other than a parabolic or allegorical narration of what transpired in the spiritual experience of the first pair. History is often a parable of truth. Verse 1. - Now (literally, and) the serpent. Nachash, from nachash -
(1) in Kal, to hiss (unused), with allusion to the hissing sound emitted by the reptile (Gesenius, Furst), though it has been objected that prior to the fall the serpent could hardly have been called by a name derived from its present constitution (Delitzsch);
(2) in Piel, to whisper, use sorcery, find out by divination (Genesis 30:27), suggestive of the creature's wisdom (Bush), Which, however, is regarded as doubtful (Furst);
(3) to shine (unused, though supplying the noun nechsheth, brass, Genesis 4:22), referring to its glossy shining appearance, and in par-titular its bright glistening eye: cf. δράκων from δέρκομαι, and ὅφις from ὄπτομαι (T. Lewis);
(4) from an Arabic root signifying to pierce, to move, to creep, so that nachash would be Latin serpens (Furst). The presence of the article before nachash has been thought to mean a certain serpent, but "by eminent authorities this is pronounced to be unwarranted" (Macdonald). Was more subtle. 'Arum -
(1) Crafty (cf. Job 5:12; Job 15:5);
(2) prudent, in a good sense (cf. Proverbs 12:16), from 'aram -
(a) To make naked; whence atom, plural arumim, naked (Genesis 2:25).
(b) To crafty (1 Samuel 23:22). If applied to the serpent in the sense of πανοῦργος (Aquila, Keil, Lange, Macdonald),
it can only be either
(1) metaphorically for the devil, whose instrument it was; or
(2) proleptically, with reference to the results of the temptation; for in itself, as one of God's creatures, it must have been originally good. It seems more correct to regard the epithet as equivalent to φρόνιμος (LXX.), and to hold that Moses, in referring to the subtlety of this creature, "does not so much point out a fault as attribute praise to nature" (Calvin), and describes qualities which in themselves were good, such as quickness of sight, swiftness of motion, activity of the self-preserving instinct, seemingly intelligent adaptation -of means to end, with perhaps a glance, in the use of 'arum, at the sleekness of its glossy skin; but which were capable of being perverted to an unnatural use by the power and craft of a superior intelligence (cf. Matthew 10:16: γίνεσθε οϋν φρόνιμοι ω). Than any (literally, was subtil more than any) beast of the field which the Lord God had made. The comparison here instituted is commonly regarded as a proof that the tempter was a literal serpent, though Macdonald finds in the contrast between it and all other creatures, as well as in the ascription to it of pre-eminent subtlety, which is not now a characteristic of serpents, an intimation that the reptile was no creature of earth, or one that received its form from God," an opinion scarcely different from that of Cyril (100. Julian., lib. 3), that it was only the simulacrum of a serpent. But
(1) the curse pronounced upon the serpent (Genesis 3:14) would seem to be deprived of all force if the subject of it had been only an apparition or an unreal creature; and
(2) the language of the New Testament in referring to man's temptation implies its literality (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3). "We are perfectly justified in concluding, from this mention of the fall, that Paul spoke of it as an actual occurrence" (Olshausen). Adam Clarke contends with much enthusiasm that the tempter was not a serpent, but an ape or orangutan. And he said. Not as originally endowed with speech (Josephus, Clarke), or gifted at this particular time with the power of articulation ('Ephrem., lib. de paradiso,' c. 27, quoted by Willet), but simply as used by the devil (Augustine, Calvin, Rosenmüller, et alii), who from this circumstance is commonly styled in Scripture 'The serpent," "the old serpent," "that old serpent" (cf. Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2). Nor is it more difficult to understand the speaking of the serpent when possessed by Satan, than the talking of Balaam s ass when the Lord opened its mouth (Numbers 22:28-30). Equally with the idea that the devil was the only agent in man s temptation, and that the serpent is purely the allegorical dress in which the historian clothes him (Eusebius, Cajetan, Quarry, Alford), must the notion be rejected that there was nothing but a serpent (Aben Ezra, Kalisch, Knobel). Why, if there was an evil spirit manipulating the reptile, the historian did not say so has been explained
(1) on the ground that the belief in the devil was then foreign to the Hebrews (Knobel);
(2) that up to this point in the narrative there is no mention of the devil (White of Dorchester);
(3) that Moses simply wished to be rei gestae scriptor non interpres (Pererins);
(4) that it was unnecessary, those for whom he wrote being sufficiently capable of discerning that the serpent was not the prime mover in the transaction (Candlish);
(5) that "by a homely and uncultivated style he accommodates what he delivers to the capacity of the people" (Calvin);
(6) that his object being merely to show that God had no hand in man's temptation, but that Adam sinned of himself, it was not needful to do more than recite the incident as it appeared to the senses (White);
(7) that he wished "to avoid encouraging the disposition to transfer the blame to the evil spirit which tempted man, and thus reduce sin to a mere act of weakness" (Keil). Unto the woman. As the weaker of the two, and more likely to be easily persuaded (1 Timothy 2:14; 1 Peter 3:7). Cf. Satan's assault on Job through his wife (Job 2:9). Milton's idea that Eve desired to be independent, and had withdrawn herself out of Adam's sight, it has been well remarked, "sets up a beginning of the fall before the fall itself" (Lunge). Yea. אַפ כּי. Is it even so that? (Gesenius). Is it really so that! (Ewald, Furst, Keil). Etiamne, vel Itane (Calvin). A question either
(1) spoken in irony, as if the meaning were, "Very like it is that. God careth what you eat!" or
(2) inquiring the reason of the prohibition (LXX., - τί ὅτι εϊπενὁ θεὸς; Vulgate, cur praecepit vobis Deus); or
(3) simply soliciting information (Chaldee Paraphrase); but
(4) most likely expressing surprise and astonishment, with the view of suggesting distrust of the Divine goodness and disbelief in the Divine veracity (Ewald, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Keil, Macdonald, Lunge). The conversation may have been commenced by the tempter, and the question "thrown out as a feeler for some weak point where the fidelity of the woman might be shaken" (Murphy); but it is more likely that the devil spoke in continuation of a colloquy which is not reported (Kalisch, Macdonald), which has led some, on the supposition that already many arguments had been adduced to substantiate the Divine severity, to render "yea" by "quanto magis," as if the meaning were, "How much more is this a proof of God's unkindness!" (Aben Ezra, Kimchi). Hath God said. "The tempter felt it necessary to change the living personal God into a merely general numen divinum" (Keil); but the Elohim of Genesis 1. He was not a mere numen divinum As much astray is the observation that Satan wished to avoid profaning the name of Jehovah (Knobel). Better is the remark that the serpent could not utter the name Jehovah as his assault was directed against the paradisiacal covenant of God with man (Lange). By using the name Elohim instead of Jehovah the covenant relationship of God towards man was obscured, and man's position in the garden represented as that of a subject rather than a son. As it were, Eve was first placed at the furthest distance possible from the supreme, and then assailed. Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden. I.e. either accepting the present rendering as correct, which the Hebrew will bear, - "Are there any trees in the garden of which you may not eat?" "Is it really so that God hath prohibited you from some?" (Calvin), - or, translating lo-kol as not any - Latin, nullus (Gesenius, § 152, 1) - "Hath God said ye shall not eat of any?" (Macdonald, Keil). According to the first the devil simply seeks to impeach the Divine goodness; according to the second he also aims at intensifying the Divine prohibition. The second rendering appears to be supported by the fitness of Eve's reply.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field, which the Lord God had made,.... Many instances are given of the subtlety of serpents, in hiding their heads when struck at, rolling themselves up, stopping their ear at the voice of the charmer, putting off their skin, lying in sand of the same colour with them, and biting the feet of horses, and other things of the like kind; but by these it does not appear to be now more subtle than any other creature, whatever it might be at its first creation; particularly the fox greatly exceeds it: the words therefore may be rendered, "that serpent"; that particular serpent, of which so much is spoken of afterwards; "or the serpent was become" (t), or "made more subtle", that is, not naturally, but through Satan being in it, and using it in a very subtle manner, to answer his purposes, and gain his point: for though a real serpent, and not the mere form or appearance of one, is here meant, as is clear from this account, and the curse afterwards pronounced on it; yet not that only, but as possessed and used by Satan as an instrument of his to accomplish his designs, as is evident from its having the faculty of speech, and the use of reason, employed in a very artful and sophistic manner: nor is it rational to suppose that human nature, in the height of its glory and excellency, should be outwitted and seduced by a creature so inferior to it; besides, the Scriptures always ascribe the seduction of man to the devil; who, because he acted his deceitful part in and by the serpent, is called the serpent, and the old serpent, and the devil and Satan, 2 Corinthians 11:3. The Targum of Jonathan restrains this subtlety to wickedness, paraphrasing the words"but the serpent was wise to evil.''Some Jewish writers (u) interpret the passage of the nakedness of the serpent, taking the word in the sense it is used in Genesis 2:25 and render it, "more naked than any beast of the field", the rest having a clothing, as hair, &c. but this none; and so might be more agreeable to Eve, being in this respect like herself; but it is generally interpreted of subtlety. The serpent early became the object of religions worship. Taautus, or the Egyptian Thoth, was the first that attributed deity to the nature of the dragon, and of serpents; and after him the Egyptians and Phoenicians: the Egyptian god Cneph was a serpent with an hawk's head; and a serpent with the Phoenicians was a good demon: what led them to have such veneration for this animal, were its plenty of spirits, its fiery nature, its swiftness, its various forms it throws itself into, and its long life (w); and so Pherecydes (x) speaks of a deity of the Phoenicians called Ophioneus; and who also affirms (y), that this was the prince of demons cast down from heaven by Jupiter; and Herodotus (z) makes mention of sacred serpents about Thebes; and Aelianus (a) of sacred dragons; and Justin Martyr says (b), the serpent with the Heathens was a symbol of all that were reckoned gods by them, and they were painted as such; and wherever serpents were painted, according to Persius (c), it was a plain indication that it was a sacred place. Serpents were sacred to many of the Heathen deities, and who were worshipped either in the form of one, or in a real one (d); all which seem to take their rise from the use the devil made of the serpent in seducing our first parents.
And he said to the woman; being alone, which he took the advantage of; not the serpent, but Satan in it; just as the angel spoke in Balaam's ass; for we are not to imagine with Philo, Josephus, Aben Ezra, and others, that beasts in their original state had the faculty of speech, and whose language Eve understood: it is very probable that good angels appeared in paradise to our first parents, in one form or another, and conversed with them; it may be in an human form, and it may be in the form of a beautiful flying serpent, which looked very bright and shining, and that sort called Seraph, Numbers 21:6 hence angels may bear the name of Seraphim, as some have thought; so that it might not be at all surprising to Eve to hear the serpent speak, it being what she might have been used to hear, and might take this to be a good angel in such a shape, that was come to bring a message to her from God, and to converse with her for her good, and who thus accosted her:
yea, hath God said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? or "of any tree" (e); so ambiguously does he speak, in order to reproach the divine goodness, and draw into a disbelief of it. The speech is abrupt; and, as Kimchi observes (f), supposes some discourse, as to this purpose; surely God hates you, for though you are greater than the rest of the creatures, he has not provided any superior excellency for you, and especially since he has said, "ye shall not eat", &c. Or as others, taking occasion from their being naked, Genesis 2:25 he observes, that that was unbecoming them, of which they might be ashamed; yea, also, that it was unjust to forbid them to eat of the tree of good and evil: he might, it is suggested, first endeavour to persuade the woman, that it was indecent for her, and her husband, to be naked; which they not being convinced of, he insinuated that this was owing to a defect of knowledge, and that there was a tree in the garden, which if they ate of, would give them that knowledge, and therefore God had forbid it, to keep them in ignorance: but he seems to put this question, to cause them to doubt of it, whether there was such a prohibition or not, and as amazing that it should be, and as not believing it to be true; it being, as he would have it, contrary to the perfections of God, to his goodness and liberality, and to his profession of a peculiar respect to man: wherefore the Targum of Onkelos renders it, "of a truth", and that of Jonathan, "is it true?" surely it cannot be true, that a God of such goodness could ever deny you such a benefit, or restrain you from such happiness; he can never be your friend that can lay such an injunction on you.
(t) "factus est", Schmidt. (u) Tikkune Zohar, correct. 59. fol. 96. 1.((w) Philo Byblius, apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 1. c. 10. p. 41. (x) Apud, Euseb. ib. (y) Apud L. Vivem in Aug. de Civ. Dei, l. 4. c. 11. (z) Euterpe sive, l. 2. c. 74. (a) De Animal l. 11. c. 2, 17. (b) Apolog. 2. p. 71. (c) "Pinge duos angues pueri, sacer est locus." Satyr. 1.((d) See more of this in a Sermon of mine, called The Head of the Serpent bruised, &c. (e) "ex ulla arbore", Piscator. (f) Sepher Shoresh in voce
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ge 3:1-5. The Temptation.
1. the serpent—The fall of man was effected by the seductions of a serpent. That it was a real serpent is evident from the plain and artless style of the history and from the many allusions made to it in the New Testament. But the material serpent was the instrument or tool of a higher agent, Satan or the devil, to whom the sacred writers apply from this incident the reproachful name of "the dragon, that old serpent" [Re 20:2]. Though Moses makes no mention of this wicked spirit—giving only the history of the visible world—yet in the fuller discoveries of the Gospel, it is distinctly intimated that Satan was the author of the plot (Joh 8:44; 2Co 11:3; 1Jo 3:8; 1Ti 2:14; Re 20:2).
more subtile—Serpents are proverbial for wisdom (Mt 10:16). But these reptiles were at first, probably, far superior in beauty as well as in sagacity to what they are in their present state.
He said—There being in the pure bosoms of the first pair no principle of evil to work upon, a solicitation to sin could come only from "without," as in the analogous case of Jesus Christ (Mt 4:3); and as the tempter could not assume the human form, there being only Adam and Eve in the world, the agency of an inferior creature had to be employed. The dragon-serpent [Bochart] seemed the fittest for the vile purpose; and the devil was allowed by Him who permitted the trial, to bring articulate sounds from its mouth.
unto the woman—the object of attack, from his knowledge of her frailty, of her having been but a short time in the world, her limited experience of the animal tribes, and, above all, her being alone, unfortified by the presence and counsels of her husband. Though sinless and holy, she was a free agent, liable to be tempted and seduced.
yea, hath God said?—Is it true that He has restricted you in using the fruits of this delightful place? This is not like one so good and kind. Surely there is some mistake. He insinuated a doubt as to her sense of the divine will and appeared as an angel of light (2Co 11:14), offering to lead her to the true interpretation. It was evidently from her regarding him as specially sent on that errand, that, instead of being startled by the reptile's speaking, she received him as a heavenly messenger.
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