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b) Gen 3:2–5: By the time of Moses, serpents represented occult wisdom, chaos, fertility, and immortality in the Ancient Near East.
In the garden, a serpent engaged Eve in conversation regarding the Lord’s prohibition in Gen 2:16–17.
He began by asking, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat from all the trees of the garden?’”.
Moses reported, “The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat, but of the tree which [is] in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it, and you shall not touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You shall not surely die. For God knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.’”
Eve corrected the snake, but not quite accurately, adding a ban on even touching the tree.
Furthermore, the Lord had warned, “You shall surely die” (moth tamuth). This underscored the inevitability of death, not an immediate loss of life.
Eve reported that God had said, “…or you shall die” (temuthun) which has a slightly different nuance.
The serpent recognized Eve’s faulty understanding and capitalized upon it by contradicting her, not God.
It responded with an unusual construction which occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 49:8; Amos 9:8). By placing the word “not” (lo) in front of “surely die” (lo moth tamuth), the snake negated the emphatic inevitability of death, not that it would occur. The snake asserted, “Death is not an immediate hazard. You have nothing to fear.”
This event underscores the importance of teaching what God says, rather than making the Bible seem more restrictive than it really is. Since evil can take advantage of this type of exaggeration, we must guard against it.
If Eve had been informed that she would die if she merely touched the fruit and suffered no harm for doing so, this may have caused her to doubt the veracity of what God forbade and encouraged her to proceed in error.
Although placing limits upon ourselves to avoid falling into sin reflects wisdom, we must accurately teach others what Scripture declares (Deut 4:2; Deut 12:32).
After asserting that death was not an immediate threat, the serpent directed Eve’s attention to the Lord’s inner thoughts, suggesting that he could ascertain the mind of God. Instead of judgment, the snake promised that disobedience would result in blessings.
The nature of evil entices humans to sit in judgment on God’s word, not to simply hear and obey it. Ultimately, rebellion treats the truth as a lie.
According to the serpent, Adam and Eve could begin their heavenward climb to becoming like God, moving beyond the limits set by the Lord in understanding his mysteries.
Had they waited, the wisdom the serpent pledged to Adam and Eve might have been theirs to enjoy in the future, when they passed the test and the time was right.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Read Gen 3:2–5. What did Eve say that the Lord commanded? How does that differ from what he told Adam in Gen 2:16–17? Why was the serpent able to use her misunderstanding to his advantage? What did the snake promise?
Go to Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6)
[Related posts include Forbidden Fruit (Gen 2:16–17); Serpents in the Ancient Near East (Gen 3:1); Satan Tempts Christ (Matt 4:1–4); A Second Temptation (Matt 4:5–7); The Third Temptation (Matt 4:8–11); Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1–8); A Murderer from the Beginning (John 8:42–44); Falling for Deception (2 Cor 11:2–4); An Angel of Light (2 Cor 11:13–15); and Author and Date of Genesis]
[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 6: A Serpent in the Garden (Genesis 3:1–13)]
 Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 3:1–5.
 Walton, Genesis, 204.
Gesenius, GKC, 342.
 Walton, Genesis, 205.
 Walton, Genesis, 205.
 Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 109.
 Walton, Genesis, 205.
 Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 189.
 Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 108.
 Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 112.
 Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 190.
 Walton, Genesis, 205–6.