“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.” Genesis 3:4 NIV
Everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve. G-d created a perfect world, a paradise. He created a man and a woman, placed them in this perfect world, and put them in charge. G-d told them that they could eat of any tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life, but they could not eat of one tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Along came the serpent, who we find out later was already at odds with G-d, and he deceived the woman Eve into eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. She then offered it to Adam, who had apparently witnessed the interchange between Eve and the serpent, and he ate of it also. And so began, according to Genesis, the entirety of the human experience: alienated from their creator, enslaved by the serpent, and awaiting the “seed of the woman” to crush the serpent’s head and redeem them (Genesis 3:15).
Whether you believe that the book, of Genesis was written by Moses, by some unknown group of scribes, or by G-d, through Moses, its assessment of the human predicament is right on, and it has many lessons to teach. One of those lessons is about deception and in fact, the story is a case study in deception and seduction.
The first thing to observe is that the deceiver always has a goal, an objective. What was the serpent’s objective? Although it is not explicitly stated, it would seem that the serpent’s objective was to separate man from G-d, but why would he want to do this?
It is commonly believed that the serpent was jealous of man and the position that man held and would hold. Man was created by G-d, in G-d’s own image and likeness. In addition, man was given charge of the Earth and everything in it (Genesis 1:27, 28). Another factor may be the Tree of Life, of which it is understood that if man ate of it, he would become immortal. Perhaps the serpent knew this and desired to prevent it.
Finally, man had a special relationship with G-d. G-d would walk with the man and the woman in the garden, conversing with and teaching them. Regardless of the reason, though, it seems pretty clear that the serpent desired to break up man’s relationship with G-d, and by doing so usurp G-d’s position in that relationship.
The conversation between Eve and the serpent seems to begin innocently enough, with the serpent saying “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). However, by asking this question, the serpent was able to bring Eve’s attention to the one thing G-d had forbidden.
Of course, G-d had not said that the man and woman could not eat from any tree, only the one tree. Eve was quick to point this out when she responded “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
Notice how Eve embellished G-d’s command with the addition of “and you must not touch it”. Many interpret this to mean that the serpent’s deception was already working in Eve, and it may also indicate that Eve had previously thought about the tree.
Maybe Eve thought that by adding the extra prohibition, it would help her obey G-d, after all, if she didn’t touch it she couldn’t eat it, right? If so, this strategy may have backfired, by making it harder, not easier, to keep G-d’s original commandment. After all, if Eve touched it and did not die, then why not eat it?
What it does show though, is that Eve was at least interested in the forbidden fruit at this point, or she would not have added the additional command.
The serpent responded with the bold face lie “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), directly contradicting G-d. He further explained that G-d was actually the jealous one, not wanting man to “be like G-d”, knowing good from evil. There is a twofold irony here; first, man was already like G-d in may respects, having been created in G-d’s image and likeness, and second, had man eaten from the Tree of Life, he would have become even more like G-d, having everlasting life (Genesis 3:22).
By now, Eve is completely taken in by the serpent, and is looking at the fruit of the tree as not only a source of good food, but also a source of wisdom and pleasure (Genesis 3:6). She tasted the fruit and gave some to Adam, who had been watching and listening. He readily ate the fruit also, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Before going further with the main theme, it is worth mentioning that over the years, more than a few have accorded the woman the blame for The Fall, as it is known, but even a superficial reading shows that this is not the case, for many reasons.
First, the command had been given to Adam, before Eve had been created (Genesis 2:15). Now, it is clear that Eve knew of the prohibition, but this is still a mitigating fact. In addition, the serpent directed his deception directly at Eve, and only indirectly at Adam. Adam was there and made no attempt to stop the serpent, or stop Eve from being deceived. In my opinion, the woman comes out of this much better than the man.
That the woman comes off much better is demonstrated later, when G-d finally catches up with them. The woman blames the serpent, but the man blames the woman! Neither one of them was willing to take responsibility for what they had done, but at least the woman had some reason to blame the serpent, but what reason did the man have to blame the woman? Sorry guys, but it looks pretty bad for the man here!
Having said that, what can we learn about deception from the story? First, as stated previously, the deceiver has a purpose for his deception, a goal. I think we can also say that the deceiver must be subtle, at least at first, only slightly distorting the truth, but then will resort to the boldest of lies when the time is right. The deceiver must also know something about the deceived that leaves them vulnerable to deception.
Ok, but what about the deceived? What I mean is, if Adam and Eve were both deceived, why should they bear any responsibility at all for disobeying G-d? They were deceived, right?
Unfortunately for our first mom and dad, and for the rest of us, it is not quite that simple. The question that begs to be asked is, why was the serpent able to deceive them? After all, it was just one simple rule, and they could eat from any other tree, including the Tree of Life. What was so hard about that?
And man had a good, loving relationship with G-d. Had G-d given man any reason to mistrust Him? He placed man in paradise, gave him lordship over an entire planet, walked and talked with him in the garden. G-d had done nothing but love and bless the man and the woman.
The reason the man and the woman were responsible for their disobedience, even though they had been deceived, lies in the nature of disobedience and in the nature of deception.
Disobedience requires a lack of trust. Clearly, Adam and Eve both had been thinking about the forbidden tree. This is demonstrated by Eve’s embellishment of G-d’s command and Adam’s inaction when Eve was being tempted. Perhaps they had discussed the tree beforehand. Perhaps they had considered the same issues that the serpent brought up and had wondered themselves why G-d had forbidden the fruit of that tree. This isn’t stated in the text, but it is not unreasonable to think this based on what is stated.
But G-d had already told them why they should not eat from that tree, it was because they would die. Many people seem to think that this was primarily a punishment, but I don’t think so. I believe it was just a consequence of eating the fruit. G-d was simply saying to them look, don’t eat from that tree, it will kill you. Certainly there are fruits and vegetables today which are poisonous and if eaten in sufficient quantity can result in death, and this was one of them. Had they trusted G-d, they would have gone to him with their concerns, but instead chose disobedience.
This brings us to a very important point about deception, which is that people who are unwilling to be deceived will not be deceived. Adam and Eve wanted to eat of that fruit, and all it took was the subtle and crafty serpent to tell them they would not die, and they went for it. They had a choice, they could believe G-d or the serpent, and they believed the serpent, because he told them what they wanted to hear.
I am reminded of the Fleetwood Mac song in which some of the lyrics go “tell me lies tell me sweet little lies”. Unfortunately, this is all too true. We often want to be deceived because we think that it provides us with an excuse for doing things that we know we should not. It does not, as the story relates.
Finally, deception always results in slavery. From the false advertiser who induces us to spend our money on a product that does not live up to its billing, to the unscrupulous lender who deceives us into buying a house that we cannot afford, to the politician who promises us the world on a string if we only vote for him, they are slave masters all. They prey upon our weakness and thereby have us do their bidding.
In the end, though, the real enslavement is not to the deceiver, it is to ourselves, and the weakness within us that leaves us vulnerable to deception. Whether it is greed, or lust, or pride, or envy, whatever it is that causes us to allow ourselves to be deceived, that is the thing which ultimately enslaves us. When we indulge that weaknesss, it only strengthens its hold on us, when we refuse to indulge it, we will be taking the first steps to emancipation.
Emancipation cannot take place though, without an unshakable commitment to the truth. If you read my previous blog, “Freedom and Truth”, you know that the truth will set you free. Perhaps now you are starting to see how that is so.