Proto-Idolatry (Genesis 3:1-16)
After the fall of Adam and Eve into sin God pronounces what has become known in theological circles as the First Good News or Protoevangelium. This first pronouncement of grace is given to mankind in Genesis 3:15. Here, God promises to send One who will defeat Satan. The sin of Adam and Eve, which brings on the curse of God and also the promise of God for a Redeemer, was the sin of idolatry. We find the account in Genesis 3:1-24.
In this summary and examination of the first case of sin/idolatry, I intend to work my way through the biblical text to discover what took place in the Garden of Eden that day. Second, to examine Satan’s tactics used with Adam and Eve, which led to their fall. Third, look at the result of the fall and its effects on the human race. Forth, trace God’s wonderful hand of grace shown His two wayward humans. Finally, examine how we can resist the temptation of idolatry in our lives by using what we learn in this account.
Genesis 3:1 begins as a narrative explaining one overarching trait that this mysterious serpent possesses. Over and above all that the author could have explained regarding the serpent, he tells us that he is more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. Other translations use words like more subtle or wiser to describe the Hebrew word arum used here in the original language.
On a more positive note, this same word is used often in the Proverbs to indicate a man who is prudent (Proverbs 12:16; 23; 13:16; 14:8; 22:3; 27:12). These occurrences in Proverbs represent the only other times this word is used. It is no mistake that when the serpent uses this characteristic it is used to deceive and tempt rather than in a positive way like being truthful and discerning.
To further identify the serpent one need only to look to the Book of Revelation.
Here, John indicates the clear identity of the Genesis serpent.
7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back,
8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Revelation 12:7-9 ESV)
The Bible helps us see and identify the serpent. We turn to the back of the Bible to understand who the serpent is in the beginning of the Bible. Scripture is truly its own best interpreter. John also shows us in Revelation 20:2 that the serpent or more appropriately in this context, the dragon is bound for one thousand years. This is the same serpent that deceived our original parents in the garden.
To further identify who the serpent is in Genesis 3 we look at his traits in Revelation 12 and 20 to discover that what he did particularly with Adam and Eve, namely, tempting and deceiving, he has been doing the exact same thing on a worldly scale. John identifies the serpent as none other than the great deceiver himself Satan. He continues doing the same things he has always done. He is a deceiver and a liar from the beginning and he always will be.
It is clear from the narrator’s language that this is not ordinary serpent. When he says that he is more crafty than any other beast the Lord God created, he is marking him as something other than an ordinary snake slithering on the ground. The serpent had become the devil’s mouthpiece. We have already seen allusions to this in Revelation and now, let’s look to a gospel account in John. Here Jesus declares that it was Satan himself who deceived Adam and Eve in the beginning.
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 ESV)
In this text Jesus identifies Satan as the deceiver in the beginning who tempted Eve and the original sin. Notice Jesus declares to the Pharisees that they are children of the devil and not of Abraham because they do what their father does and has always done. He is a liar and now they too are pictured as liars as they spin their own story about Jesus.
Satan goes by many aliases. He is called the devil (Matthew 13:39). He is referred to as the great dragon (Revelation 12:3). He has been called Beelzebub and Belial (Matthew 10: 25; 2 Corinthians 6:15 respectively). Lucifer is his name in the King James Version of the Bible. Sometimes he is called the Evil One, the Tempter, the god of this world, the Ruler of the kingdom of the air and the Prince of this world (Isaiah 14:12; Matthew 13:19; Matthew 4:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; John 12:31).
To begin with we should remind ourselves of God’s original command made to Adam. Before Eve was created, God told Adam in very specific and simple terms not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)
As we examine this command, we must see that it is a very generous command. In other words, God told Adam that every tree in the garden was good for food and he should enjoy them and eat freely of all except one. God is good and generous and His commands are not burdensome. That is what God really said. The command was so simple and precise that there was also no confusion as to what God meant by the command. There is not a misunderstanding on Adam’s part nor is the command viewed as restrictive or cruel in any way. Adam did just what God commanded; he worked the garden and ate of all the trees except one.
Up to this point Adam’s view of God is correct. God is Creator, Sustainer and Head. God is powerful, kind, generous and loving. His view of God is accurate and the result is peace and harmony in the Garden of Eden. It truly is the perfect place.
Now we are introduced to an intruder; a thief who enters without Adam’s permission. This serpent is not like the other animals that Adam has authority over. He comes practicing his old tricks of lying and deceiving. His first words are not to Adam but to his wife, Eve. These first words come in the form of a question with an agenda. What was the devil trying to accomplish with his carefully worded inquiry?
“Did God actually say, ‘You not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
As soon as Eve responds, immediately Satan has her. Gerhard Von Rad, in his observation on this passage shows just how subtle and quick the serpent delivers the bite of death:
The serpents question contains, it is true, a complete distortion, for God never said man should not eat from no tree in the garden; but in just this way the serpent drew the woman into conversation. It gives her the opportunity first of all to be right and to defend herself for God’s sake. 
With that one question, the serpent has raised Eve up to be the spokesman (or woman) for God. He intentionally gets her to correct his diabolical question. By telling the serpent what God really said. However, now she has raised herself up to be like God. She does so even before she takes of the fruit. She is becoming an idol worshipper. She is creating a god of her own imagination and it is she.
No doubt at some point in the past Adam and Eve had discussed what God had commanded him. He also, probably told her that they should not eat of the tree or even go near it. They may have even agreed never to touch it (although that is not in the Scriptures). At any rate, she adds to God’s perfect Word. Here is what she says:
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV)
Eve has recast God’s Words and has included her seeming little addition neither shall you touch it. By adding this short phrase Eve has created an imaginary God. She has taken the generous God and turned Him into a restrictive God. She has inserted human ideas into God’s commands. She has added to the Word of God. He never said they couldn’t touch it, He only said they must not eat it. In her attempt to correct Satan’s deceptive lie she has placed herself over God and now seeks to set the record straight and in doing so is actually correcting God.
Now, the serpent uses all his craftiness and all his deception to take Eve a step farther in her interpretation of what God actually said. So far, we have seen that the serpent has twisted the original command from eating of all the trees except one to not eating of any tree. Now, moving Eve ever farther away from God’s Word he brings confusion and doubt into her thinking. She is approaching her biblical hermeneutic from the wrong view of God, namely, that God is restrictive and cruel. Notice what he says,
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV)
God did say that the day they ate they would surely die. So the serpent now, is moving his argument to God is lying. Not only is God cruel and restrictive but also He is a liar who cannot be trusted. He is placing in Eve’s mind that if she is going to have any pleasure in this life, it will not be found in God. He is mean and cannot be trusted. The pleasure will come by fleeing from the lies of God and eating of the one tree in which God fully knows that when you eat of it you will not surely die, Eve, you will surely have life and understanding in the fullest sense. So, pleasure and joy is going to come not from listening to God but listening to your desire to have what is forbidden and to possess knowledge like God has or literally, to be like God.
As humans, we must be very careful when someone comes to us with “extra biblical” knowledge. They are not from God but from the devil. “You will not surely die” is not true. That statement was made up in the mind of Satan. To deny the clear teaching of God’s Word is not to remove the chains that we think bind us but to actually ensnare ourselves in the devil’s lies.
The serpent’s next move is to offer Eve something that sounded good but, in reality, she did not need. He offers her knowledge that will make her like God. Here, we see the half-truths of the devil. They would, in fact, know good and evil. The deceptive lie from the devil was that this would make them happy and free from the God who is cruel. Notice that he adds, God knows when you eat of it… Here, he portrays God again as restrictive and not giving them all they should have to be happy and whole. The reality, however, is the knowledge of good and evil only serves to add evil and sin into their lives and to separate them from the true God who is generous and kind. Here is Gordon Wenham’s comments,
Similarly, becoming ‘like God, knowing good and evil’, only serves to separate them from Him. On hearing Him approach, they hide among the bushes and they are expelled from the garden. The snake’s promises have come true but in a very different way from the way one might have expected, had they come from God.
6 So 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6 ESV).
The forbidden fruit had three positive features: it was very good and useful for food, it was beautiful and pleasing to look at, and finally, it had an enduring trait, it made useful to make one wise. Of the three positive virtues, it seems that what Eve desired most was the knowledge that the fruit gave. Eve gazed at the fruit and began dreaming of the day when she would be wise. No longer would she be third in order of importance. No longer would she need to acquire knowledge second hand but she would be wise like God and have no need to seek God out or depend on Him, she would be autonomous in and of herself.
This really is the crux of the matter when speaking of idolatry. Many believe idolatry just to be worshipping something besides God. This is part of it, but the deeper truth is that idolatry allows one to pretend to be God. The idolater can manipulate his creation and cause it to serve him (or at least he thinks so). In Eve’s case, she thought that the additional knowledge that the fruit would giver her would give her life significance that she did not currently possess. It is as Victor Hamilton writes,
Indulgence here would give to the woman something she did not, in her judgment, presently possess, and that is wisdom. The text literally reads: ‘When the woman saw that the tree…was desirable [nehmad] in order to become wise.’ Here is the essence of covetousness. It is the attitude that says I need something I do not now have in order to be happy.
Verse six shows us how quickly she was convinced and acted. She took what was not hers to take. This tree belonged to God not to Eve. She ate of the forbidden fruit and then she gave to her husband and he ate. Why did Eve respond this way? She saw in the forbidden fruit to opportunity to become wise. It may very well be that in some respects she admired the craftiness of the serpent and saw her opportunity to acquire some for herself. In the original Hebrew, her desire went way over and above simple desire. The word (taawah) means a very strong desire that actually overcomes ones normal senses or we might call it an obsession. In his classic commentary on Genesis, Franz Delitzsch remarks,
That which causes a feeling of delight combined with desire for possession is here called (taawah)…Hence it does not mean to say that the tree appeared to her desirable, because it seemed to give her that of which the serpent held out the prospect, viz. the means of higher knowledge, perhaps because she imagined that it was to his partaking of this fruit that the serpent was indebted for his superiority to the other beasts in wisdom.
It is extremely important in understanding this passage that it was not the fruit itself that dazzled the eyes of Eve, it was what she could get from it that captured her affections. Could it be, as Delitzsch writes that Eve saw in the serpent traits she wished she had? Then it might stand to reason that she also assumed the serpent also ate of the tree because if the tree was desirable to make one wise then the serpent represents the wisest being she has ever met, next to God. We are, however, not given proof of this in the Scriptures so we must be careful jumping to conclusions, yet it seems likely that this is the case. The writer of Genesis tells us the serpent was most crafty and then moves to Eve desiring to be wise. I believe it to be very possible given the way the text unfolds.
One point we must not leave out is the unfolding of the fact that Adam also ate of the forbidden fruit. He stood beside Eve the entire time she was being tempted and said nothing. His roll of head and leader was not exercised in the least. He too listened to the serpent’s sales pitch and did not try to stop him. Perhaps he too desired the knowledge promised by the serpent? Perhaps he loved his wife more than God and did not want to see her enter this alone? Who knows for sure why it happened but the main thing was that it did happen.
There is a very big difference between Eve’s sin and Adam’s sin. Eve was tempted by the devil. She was lured in with very elegant and impressive speech. At least she tried to oppose the serpent at first. Adam was not tempted in the way Eve was but freely stretched out his hand and took from his wife. He never offered one bit of resistance to her offer.
The Apostle Paul would later refer to this account and show that Adam not Eve represented the human race. It was Adam’s sin that caused the fall, his wife usurped his headship and he did nothing about it. When he ate of the forbidden fruit, the sin that caused the fall, all humanity fell with him. Read these words from Paul when he tells us:
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22)
The half-truth of the serpent began to unfold. Their eyes were opened. Their innocence lost. No longer would they walk together before God unashamed and guiltless. Now, sin had entered the human race and everything would forever be different. The devil’s offer of knowledge was fulfilled, however, it was not the type of knowledge they anticipated. Eve thought the knowledge would cause her to become self-sufficient when, in reality, their eyes were opened to sin and guilt. Such knowledge comes with a very high price tag.
Satan planted the idea in the woman’s head that God had intentionally misled them with an idle threat so that man could not be like God. The longer she contemplated the devil’s words the more she began to believe him. In the end, she trusted what Satan said over what God said…you will not surely die became truth to Eve. Notice what Gerhard Aalders writes in his commentary on this verse:
The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for attaining wisdom. When she looked at the tree she, in her heart, began to agree with the serpent. Truly the fruit of the tree was good for food and it was attractive in appearance. She failed to see why she should not eat it. Nothing seemed to substantiate the divine command.
It is important to realize that in the serpent Eve saw a wise, crafty and a being completely free from God’s restraints. The serpent may have already eaten from this tree but nothing has happened to him she may have thought. She wanted autonomy for herself.
This verse ends by declaring that after Eve took of the forbidden fruit, she then gave some to her husband, who was with her. It has often been debated whether or not Adam was with Eve during the serpent encounter or not. The text is really not entirely clear as to where Adam was during the serpent encounter. What is clear, however, is that Eve offered the fruit and Adam willingly took it, knowing full well that God had commanded him not to eat of the fruit (1 Timothy 2:14).
7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:6-7 (ESV).
Now comes the rest of the story. Satan’s words were partly true. There was a new knowledge now possessed by Adam and Eve. This new knowledge, however, cost them far more than it ever delivered. Their innocence was forever. No more could them walk hand in hand in the presence of God. Paradise as John Milton wrote was, in fact, lost.
The disheartening experience of knowing good and evil begins to manifest itself. The attractiveness of the sin, as portrayed by the serpent has given way to shame and guilt. Their eyes are open, they new good and evil and they knew they were naked. Literally, the only knowledge that they acquired was the knowledge of their nakedness. Before, in the stage of innocence their nakedness was normal. That is how God made them and they never thought it odd in any way. Now, things are different. Sin had brought with it a level of fear and guilt and a new knowledge of their standing before God not clothed.
This manifestation of shame and guilt came as a result of their spiritual condition. Because of sin, all humans must be clothed physically and spiritually. They were more than just naked physically. They stood before God with souls that were no longer clothed. That is why John tells us that in the new heavens we will all be clothed with white robes, the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 7:9).
God is a giving, generous, loving and kind God. Not the god Satan was promoting. Eve’s fist mistake was that he was adding legalism to God’s command. Never did God command Adam and Eve not to touch the forbidden fruit. Then had the command of God to till the ground and tend the garden prior to the fall. Part of tending was to trim/prune. They charge was to care for everything in the Garden of Eden, including the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve told the serpent that they were not allowed to touch the tree. This, however, was not the case at all. Her rule or addition of not touching it was added in as if God said it. This mode of legalism would go on to plague the Israelites and really all people.
Legalism always comes back to haunt us. It makes the true God a false god because it turns the true God’s generosity into a false god’s unrealistic, overbearing and severe. It leads to greatly hindering our love and true service to the God of Scripture.
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:12-15 ESV)
The command of God was simple and clear. God told Adam, You can eat the fruit from all the trees in the garden but of the tree in the middle of the garden, do not eat was very clear and simple. But because they secretly desired to not submit to God but actually be like God they exchanged the simple and clear for lies of confusion. Even though Satan’s words were lies, these lies of confusion were what they wanted.
In her confused mind, no more did she look at the tree as a tree not to eat from but a tree that would make her wise and to be like God. As James Dixon tells us,
Clearly, the woman became confused. The snake had led her to think about wrong things. He had induced her to think about wrong things. He had induce her to make further rules not established by God. She looked at the tree with a mindset she had not previously considered. It is a tree, she thought, ‘…to be desired to make one wise…(Genesis 3:6). She forgot that it was also a tree to make one dead.
 Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press 1961) 85
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Texas, Word Publishers 1987) 74
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis from the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1990) 190
 Franz Delitzsch D. D., A New Commentary on Genesis, Volume I (Minneapolis, Klock & Klock 1988)154
 Gerhard C. Aalders, Bible Student’s Commentary: Genesis Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1981) 102
 James Dixon, Expository Thoughts on Genesis (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press 2005) 76