And the LORD God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.…
1. It is profoundly significant that this narrative traces the first sin to an external tempter. Evil does not spring spontaneously in the unfallen heart. Sin is not, as some would have it, a necessary step in man's development, nor does it spring from his own nature; it is an importation.
2. Whatever more may be taught by the serpent form of the tempter, we may safely regard it as a kind of parable of the nature of evil. The reptile is a symbol both of temptation and of sin. Its colours, sometimes brilliant, but always weird; its lithe, insinuating motions; its slimy track, its sudden spring; its sting so slender, and leaving so minute a puncture, but so deadly; its poison, which kills, not by hideous laceration, as in a lion's rending, but by passing the fatal drop into the very life blood — all these points have their parallels in the sinuous approaches, the horrid fascinations, the unnoticed wounds, and the fatal poison of sin. If we turn to the story, we find that it falls into three parts.
I. THE SUBTLE APPROACHES OF TEMPTATION. Notice that we have here, however, a picture of the way in which a pure nature was led away. The way taken with one which has already fallen may be much shorter. There is no need for elaborate and gradual approaches then, but it is often enough to show the bait, and the sinful heart dashes at it. Here more caution has to be used.
1. First comes an apparently innocent question, "Is it so that God has said, Ye shall not eat?" The tempter might as well have asked whether the sun shone at midday. To cloud the clear light of duty with the mists of doubt is the beginning of falling. A sin which springs with a rush and a roar is less dangerous than one which slides in scarcely noticed. When the restrictions of law begin to look harsh, and we begin to ask ourselves, "Is it really the case that we are debarred from all these things over the hedge there?" the wedge has been driven a good way in. Beware of tampering with the plain restrictions of recognized duty, and of thinking that doubt may be admissible as to them.
2. The next speech of the tempter dares more. Questioning gives place to assertion. There is a fiat lie, which the tempter knows to be a lie, to begin with. There is a truth in the statement that their eyes will be opened to know good and evil, though the knowledge will not be, as he would have Eve believe, a blessing, but a misery. So his very truth is more a lie than a truth. And there is a third lie, worse than all, in painting the perfect love of God, which delights most in making men like Himself, as grudging them a joy, and keeping it for Himself. In all these points we have here a picture of sin's approaches to the yielding will. Strange that tricks so old, and so often found out, should yet have power to deceive us to our ruin. But so it is, and thousands of young men and women today are listening to these old threadbare lies as if they were glorious new truths, fit to be the pole stars of life!
II. THE FATAL DEED. The overwhelming rush of appetite, which blinds to every consideration but present gratification of the senses, is wonderfully set forth in the brief narrative of the sin. The motives are put at full length. The tree was "good for food"; that is one sense satisfied. It was "pleasant to the eyes"; that is another. If we retain the translation of the Authorized and Revised Versions, it was "to be desired to make one wise"; that appealed to a more subtle wish. But the confluent of all these streams made such a current as swept the feeble will clean away; and blind, dazed, deafened by the rush of the stream, Eve was carried over the falls, as a man might be over Niagara. This is the terrible experience of everyone who has yielded to temptation. For a moment all consequences are forgotten, all obligations silenced, every restraint snapped like rotten ropes. No matter what God has said, no matter what mischief will come, no matter for conscience or reason; let them all go! The tyrannous craving which has got astride of the man urges him on blindly. All it cares for is its own satisfaction. What of remorse or misery may come after are nothing to it.
III. THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES. These are two fold:
(1) The appointment of toil as the law of life;
(2) the sentence of physical death.
1. The change on the physical world which followed on man's sin is a distinct doctrine of both Old and New Testaments, and is closely connected with the prophecies of the future in both. Here it comes into view only as involving the necessity of a life of toilsome conflict with the sterile and weed-bearing soil. The simple life of the husbandman alone is contemplated here, but the law laid down is wide as the world.
2. The sentence of death is repeated in unambiguous terms. Physical death, and nothing else, is meant by the words. Observe the significant silence as to what is to become of the other part of man. The words distinctly refer to Genesis 2:7, but nothing is said now as to the living soul. The curse of death is markedly limited to the body. The very silence is a veiled hint of immortality.
(1) Learn that physical death is the outcome of sin. No doubt animal life tends to death; but it does not follow that, if man had been sinless, the tendency would have been suffered to fulfil itself. However that may be, the whole of what we know as death, which has far more in it of pain and terror than the mere physical process, is plainly the result of sin.
(2) Learn, too, the analogy between the death of the body and the condition of the spirit which is given up to sin. Death is a parable — a picture in the material world of what sin does to the soul. Separation from God is death. When He withdraws His hand from the body it dies; when the soul withdraws itself from Him it dies.
3. Finally, the temptation in the garden reminds us of the temptation in the wilderness. Christ had a sorer temptation than Adam. The one needed nothing; the other was hungered. The one had nothing of terror or pain hanging over him, which he would escape by yielding; the other had His choice between winning His kingdom by the cross, and getting rule by the easy path of taking evil for His good. The one fell, and, as the most godless scientists are now preaching, necessarily transmitted a depraved nature to his descendants. The other stood, conquered, and gives of His spirit to all who trust Him.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.