So, what went wrong?
The Garden in Genesis 2 seems so idyllic… and so far away. What happened? Why are things so different now?
Of course, the short answer is, “Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and plunged all creation into the curse.”
While that’s true, I believe the isolation of the Genesis narrative into individual stories hinders our appreciation of some significant elements. There is more going on here than simple disobedience.
Let’s pick up the Story in chapter 3 of Genesis:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” —Genesis 3:1–5 (NAS95)
Chances are, when we describe the events leading up to the Fall, we attribute them to Satan. While that is true and theologically accurate, that is a detail that is only confirmed later in the Story. Here, it’s clear something unique is going on, because, in our world, snakes don’t talk and Moses hasn’t identified talking animals as one of the peculiarities of that time. But let’s don’t get ahead of the Story so much that we miss the fact that the instigator in all of this is a serpent—one of the creatures that man is to subdue and rule over. Man is about to be tested in his role as God’s representative ruler. Will he subdue the opposition and bring order to the chaos, as God would or… not?
Which brings us to the temptation itself.
In his craftiness, the serpent begins by suggesting, though not explicitly stating, that God is unreasonable—“Did God put you in the middle of all these trees and then forbid you to eat from them?”
The woman deflects this first pass, correcting the serpent— “No, we can eat from the trees, there’s just that one tree in the middle of the Garden…” But in her rebuttal, she overstates God’s prohibition—“You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die.”
With this inaccuracy, the serpent’s attack becomes direct, expressly denying the truth of God’s words—“You surely will not die!” He goes on to impugn God’s motives, suggesting that God’s warning is not for her benefit, but for His own. He is worried about competition, not about her well–being. He knows that if she eats, she will become just like Him, knowing good and evil.
And, therein lies the temptation—that we could be like God, knowing good and evil.
But isn’t knowing good and evil a good thing? I mean, how else can we conduct ourselves properly? How can we distinguish between right and wrong if we don’t know good and evil?
Well, consider that knowing good and evil is not the primary element of the temptation; it simply explains and clarifies the primary temptation—to be like God.
Here’s where reading this episode in the context of the larger Story becomes critical. As the account of creation has unfolded, Moses has told us six different times that God examined His work and saw that it was good.
- Genesis 1:3 God saw that the light was good…
- Genesis 1:10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.
- Genesis 1:12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
- Genesis 1:18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
- Genesis 1:21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
- Genesis 1:25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
Then, after man and woman are formed, God looks back over all He has created, and sees that it was very good (Genesis 1:31).
Note carefully how each of these are stated. God looks at what He has created, evaluates it, and decides that it is good. The pronunciation involves judgment.
The process continues into chapter 2, only this time His assessment is different—”Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone...” (Genesis 2:18).
Up to this point, the prerogative to evaluate and pronounce things as either good or not good has belonged to God alone. It is inherent to His role as Creator. But now the serpent suggests that man can claim this authority for himself–the right to evaluate. This is a part of what the serpent is offering with you will be like God.
But there is more. Note how he introduces the temptation— “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened…” A limitation you now possess will be removed—your eyes will be opened. Then, you will be able to see just as God saw in chapters 1 and 2. The thing holding you back, the thing that keeps you from exercising the authority to evaluate is your competency to evaluate. The serpent offers both—the ability and right to decide good and evil for ourselves. This is what it means to be like God.
Created by God, we were placed here as His representatives, but the serpent offered more—“Why settle for representing God, when you can assume equality with Him?”
Which identity will we choose? Will we fulfill our roles as God’s representatives, enforcing His standard of good and evil, and subdue this enemy? Or will we join the rebellion we should put down, grasping for equality with Him, and choose to define good and evil for ourselves?
The whole Story turns on this decision, yet the narrative is surprisingly brief—
“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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” —Genesis 3:6 (NAS95)
In Genesis 1 and 2, God saw. Now the woman sees.
She sees three things:
- The tree was good for food
- The tree was a delight to the eyes
- The tree was desirable to make one wise
Do any of these sound familiar?
The first two are repeated from Genesis 2:9— “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food…” Regarding these first two points, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered no advantage. It was just like every other tree in the Garden. All of them were good for food and were a delight to the eyes.
But, in the third point, it was unique—it alone was desirable to make one wise. And with said wisdom came the ability and presumed right to decide good and evil for herself.
So, she eats. And, leads her husband to eat with her.
Discontent and convinced that she didn’t need to settle for representing God, she chose to become a peer of God, claiming for herself the right and ability to decide good and evil.
That is what went wrong.
If we miss this, we miss a pivotal point in the Story and will misinterpret both it, and our lives. Because from this point on, every person who enters the Story—every one of us—will operate from the assumption that we can decide for ourselves what is good and what is not. We may not be so bold as to claim outright equality with God, but our attitude betrays us nonetheless.
This attitude is so central to the Story that thousands of years after the Garden, the Apostle Paul will identify it as the issue which makes all men worthy of God’s wrath—
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” —Romans 1:18—21 (NAS95)
But that’s getting ahead of the Story again. Returning to Genesis 3, we recall that God told them that if they ate, they would die. Did they?