KEY TEXT: God planted two trees in the midst of the Garden: the Tree of Life (which Adam and Eve could freely eat of its fruits) and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which they were forbidden to eat of its fruits, which would lead to death, Gen. 2:17). The question often asked is why God placed the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden along with the Tree of Life. The answer is that Adam and Eve were created with a free-will and therefore freedom to choose. Before their Fall into sin, Adam and Eve were totally free and were not enslaved by anything. But if Adam and Eve have no choice but to eat of the fruits of the Tree of Life, than it's not true freedom. Freedom is the power to choose good over non-good--which is evil. So, in order that Adam and Eve are truly free, they must be given a choice to exercise that freedom--viz., the Tree of Knowledge. But the devil took advantage of this freedom to destroy them by subterfuge.
So, how did the serpent influence Eve to exercise their freedom to choose the Tree of Knowledge? The devil follows a clear strategy repeated down the ages:
- Creating doubt in God's Word (v.1b): The serpent's opening statement undermines the trustworthiness of God's word: "Did God actually say...?" And this has been the main focus of the devil's strategy--to undermine faith in God and His word by creating doubts. When the devil is able to sow doubts in our minds, and we accept them, we are on the road to decline and destruction. He creates doubts in God's word by distorting its injunction: "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?" God's instruction to Adam and Eve is the exact opposite: "You may surely eat of of every tree in the garden" except the Tree of knowledge (2:16). Eve fell into the serpent's subterfuge by following his negative innuendo about God's goodness: "you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden" (v.3). The devil focuses on what we cannot do (one tree), instead of what we can do (all trees). Freedom is the power to choose the manifold blessings of life and to avoid the one or two things that eventually lead to death.
- Telling Half-Truth/Half-Lie (v.4-5): The devil's tactic is not just to undermine faith in God's word but also to substitute it with his half-truths and outright lies. He slanders God by suggesting that God does not want Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge because He doesn't want them to be like Him--"you will be like God" so that they can have the power to know good and evil. In order to make Eve choose knowledge instead of life, the serpent states a half-truth, which is a half-lie: "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (v.5). It's true their eyes were opened and they became "like God, knowing good and evil", but it's a lie that Adam and Eve would not die. While it's also true that Adam and Eve did not immediately drop dead, but they would eventually die because sin cut them off from God who is the source of life. So when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, the death process began to operate immediately: "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever" (Genesis 3:22). So, Adam and Eve began to experience death which eventually happened, though quite belatedly.
- Appealing to Legitimate Needs (v.4-5): The devil manages to convince Eve that taking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is to their advantage, not detriment: "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" (Genesis 3:6). The three-fold appeal of sin is similar to what the apostle John describes as the "lust of the flesh" (good for food), "lust of the eyes" (delight to the eyes) and "pride of life" (desired to make one wise). The devil's temptation is to appeal to the legitimate needs of the whole person: body (food-physical need for survival), soul (looking good-psychological need for security), and spirit (wisdom-spiritual need for significance).
Father, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.