The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

The Temptation and Fall

We are now ready to give our attention to the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis 3:1-6. In this simple and brief historical record of the temptation and fall of our first parents there are various easily discernible steps. The first of these is described in the first three verses of Genesis 3: “And he (that is, the serpent) said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”

First of all, we must notice that the tempter addressed himself to the woman, not to the man. And the question may be asked: Why?

The answer to this question cannot lie in the possibility that the woman could be more easily tempted because she was morally weaker. This is not true. Adam and Eve both stood in moral integrity as they came from the hand of their Creator. Eve was no more inclined to sin than was Adam. There was no weakness in Eve asGod had created her. But, in the first place, there may indeed be something in the fact that Adam, not Eve, had received the commandment directly from God, although this cannot be of great importance.

In the second place, we must remember that Eve was not the head and thus did not bear the responsibility which Adam had. This is not to say that Eve was not personally responsible; she certainly was. But because Adam was the head, not only of the woman but of the entire race, his position was the more responsible.

In the third place, if we bear in mind the possibility that the woman’s nature was more susceptible to an appeal to the senses than that of the man, that her nature was closer to the occasion of the temptation, that the devil, in order to create the lie, had to impress upon the tempted the beauty and desirability of the tree through an appeal to the senses, and if we add to this the possibility that Adam could more easily be tempted through his wife than by the tempter in person because of the close proximity of Eve to Adam, then we can somewhat understand this approach of Satan. We may add that this manner of approach is quite in keeping with his deceitful and wily nature.

In considering the tempter’s approach to Eve, we must remember that there is a considerable difference between the temptation of Eve and our temptations today. The devil confronted a difficult problem, much more difficult than when he tempts us. We are fallen. The inclination to doubt, to unbelief, to lust, to pride, is present in our very nature. Because sin is already present in us, in heart and mind and will, waiting, as it were, to be appealed to, we are easy victims of the temptation of the Evil One. But Eve was pure of nature, as was also Adam. She was without sin and without any inclination to sin. The spiritual attitude of her inmost nature was one of perfect integrity, Only she had the peculiar freedom and power to change this perfect integrity into an attitude of corruption and sin by an act of her own will. Eve was not morally perfect in the highest sense, so that there was no possibility of sin for her; but she was fallible.

Hence, the devil’s problem was to play upon Eve’s will in such a way as to make her desire the very object forbidden by God; so that she would choose it rather than God’s way. To obtain this result, the forbidden fruit had to be presented to her mind as above all things desirable. And in order to achieve this purpose the devil had to create the lie about the tree of knowledge of good and evil; he had to contradict the truth of God.

Let us see how this was done.

The devil begins by attempting to sow doubt in the soul of Eve; and he does so by means of a very subtle question, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”

Let us understand the intent of this question. It was not the devil’s purpose to create confusion in Eve’s mind as to the meaning of God’s command and to attempt to change God’s word in Eve’s mind. That would have been a foolish attempt on the devil’s part. For not only was the commandment of God so simple and plain that there could be no confusion about it; but also such a question would exactly call to mind God’s rich goodness. They had already eaten of the fruit of the other trees, and death had not come. Moreover, in that case the devil succeeded not at all: for in the strongest terms Eve denies that. God had forbidden them to eat of every tree. Besides, we must remember that sin is exactly not based on mental confusion and lack of clarity with respect to God’s commands.

No, the devil by means of this question very subtly purposes to create an introductory basis for his argument. He wants to bring home to Eve’s mind the idea that that tree will not kill her, that the tree will make her like God, and that there is a reason why God forbade her and her husband to eat of that one tree. To accomplish this purpose he calls attention to the general fact: trees do not kill; in fact, by the fruit of the trees you live; for has not God permitted you to eat of every tree of the garden? He means to arouse in Eve’s soul the question: if we may eat of all the trees in the garden, what possible harm can there be in eating of this one tree? This the devil does, not by means of a forthright statement, but by a subtle question, a question designed to make Eve ponder the answer and to come to the devil’s conclusion. In this question, he already brings in God? This is above all necessary. The hidden intent of the question is to make Eve say within herself: “I wonder why, if trees would kill, God did not forbid us to eat of all the trees? And how can it be, if the other trees are good for food and do not kill, that partaking of this one tree can possibly be bad for us?”

How well the devil succeeded with his introductory question becomes evident immediately. For Eve begins to yield.

Evidence of her yielding may already be seen in the fact that Eve takes up the discussion of the matter with the serpent. For one thing, there is at least the indication of pride already in the fact that she ignores Adam. If we remember that the probationary command had a unique significance, if we bear in mind that the future of the whole race was involved, if we keep in mind the fact that Adam, not Eve, was the head of the human race, if we remember also that Adam was the head of the woman, and if, finally, we remember that Adam, not Eve, had received the command of God directly, then there is reason to believe that pride already motivated Eve when she presumed to discuss the matter without Adam. She should have said, “Just a minute; let me call my husband.” Moreover, her only reply to the serpent, should she give one, should have been a rebuke, for there was criticism of God in the very question which the serpent asked her.

But it is important to notice Eve’s reply. For in her answer there is clear evidence that she yielded to doubt. Eve answers: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” In this answer there are four distinct points in which Eve misquotes and misrepresents God’s command. In the first place, Eve uses the plural, “Ye,” while God had used the singular “thou” and had addressed Adam alone when He announced the command. She presumed to speak for her husband.

Secondly, she avoids mentioning the name of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; instead she designates it as “the tree which is in the midst of the garden.”

In the third place, she exaggerates and twists the command of God when she adds to it that they might not even touch the tree. God had never said this. Not only is this exaggeration a sign of weakness, but it leaves the impression that the devi1 had certainly succeeded in making Eve think of the tree itself in terms of its being a death-dealing tree.

This last is certainly the impression left by the fourth misquotation: “lest ye die.” Here Eve betrays the fact that she is thinking of the possible consequences of eating of or touching the tree, rather than of obeying God’s command. For she presents death as the result of eating of the fruit of the tree, or of touching the tree, rather than as the punishment of sin.

Especially this last is very important.

The devil had succeeded. The seed of doubt had already struck root in Eve’s soul. She was thinking within herself, “We may eat of every tree, but this tree will supposedly kill us. How can that be?”

Now the devil moves in boldly. The second stage of the temptation is described in verses 4 and 5: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God (not: as “gods”), knowing good and evil.”

Notice now that the devil’s word is a flat contradiction of the Word of God. He is the liar from the beginning. He boldly contradicts God and replaces the truth of God by his own lie. This lie is based on the argument implied in his first question. The devil perceives that the heart of Eve has been prepared for this bold contradiction. She has yielded to the doubt of the first question. The devil had, in effect, argued, “Trees do not kill, do they? This tree will surely not kill.” Eve shows that she has yielded by continuing to listen to the devil; she shows that she is ready to be convinced.

But this is not enough. Eve’s mind is ready for another evil master stroke of the devil. For there must have been a reason why God forbade them to eat of the tree. Of this situation the devil takes advantage in order to slander God, first of all. He connects his lie with the tree. He speaks an apparent truth: “Ye shall know good and evil. Your eyes shall be opened.”

To this he adds the lie of all “Ye shall be as God.” Thus he ascribes evil motives to God. “God doth know this,” he says. He pictures God as a God who does not seek the highest good for His creatures, but their evil. He presents the true good of Adam and Eve as lying in the direction of disobedience. He presents the end of sin as a good to be desired: “Ye shall be as God.” Here the devil is revealed in his true character as the adversary of God, who opposes and contradicts the Word of God, and as the slanderer of God, the liar, who always speaks of his own and lies. Here sin is revealed in its deepest principle: It is to negate God, to deny God and His sovereignty. Sin means that man will be his own god, determining for himself what shall be good and evil.

Eve believed the devil. She goes on listening. She contemplates what the tempter says. This is the same as believing him. The elements of this attitude of Eve are very plain. In the first place, there is in Eve doubt and unbelief with respect to God’s Word. She is open to questioning and even to contradiction with respect to that Word of God. She is no longer minded to accept that Word unconditionally. In the second place, there is in her a repudiation and disavowal of the love of God. For otherwise she could not have listened to the slander of the devil. Moreover, she is swelled with pride: she will be like God and independently determine what is good and evil.

Then comes the third step. The devil has done his evil work, and what is now successfully implanted in Eve’s heart and soul must only bear its fruit: she surrenders to lust. This is described in verse 6: “And when the woman saw that, the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.”

Eve now beholds the tree entirely apart from the Word of God. She beholds that it is good for food. This must certainly have been true in itself. But in the light of the Word of God, it was the lie. But the power of sin had already darkened Eve’s understanding spiritually. She sees food value in the fruit. How could it possibly kill? Here is manifested the “lust of the flesh” mentioned in I John 2:16.

Secondly, Eve beholds the tree as pleasant to the eyes. This also was undoubtedly true, apart from the Word of God. That tree was not in itself ugly. But in the light of God’s Word it was a temptation, of vanity, from which her eyes should have been turned away. Now, however, the tree began to be attractive to her. Here is manifested sin’s “lust of the eyes. ”

In the third place, Eve now beholds the tree as “desired to make one wise.” She sees the violation of the Word of God as the way to true wisdom and the tree as a means to make her wise. This is because she views the tree from the viewpoint of the devil’s lie, “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” That tree could instruct her and open her eyes! She sets aside the Word of God and already prefers her own judgment. Here is manifested sin’s “vainglory of life. ”

It could but follow, then, that Eve committed the actual deed of sin and ate of the forbidden tree. It could also only follow that she tempted her husband. She had plunged herself into misery, and she knew it. She herself was motivated by enmity against God and by the love of darkness rather than light, also in her attitude toward her husband. She could not tolerate the fellowship of the sinless, holy, righteous husband; she therefore sought immediately to bring him down with her into death. In this she succeeded – apparently, if we may judge from Scripture’s brief statement of it, without much of a struggle. The devil had calculated correctly when he plotted to tempt Adam through his wife.

In conclusion, let us take careful note of the fact that all that is involved in the sin of our first parents is a matter of their fundamental, spiritual, ethical viewpoint, proceeding from their inmost nature. Their nature was penetrated by the lie of the devil. Their nature – heart and mind and soul and strength – was changed spiritually and became sinful. From the viewpoint of that sinful nature, the lie looked to be the truth, evil appeared good, the way of death appeared to be the way of life, the way of misery appeared the way of happiness. Here lies the deepest root of sin. Let us remember this. Sin is not a matter of the mere intellect, not a matter of objective evidence, not a matter of argument. It is not any of the former that makes the world of sinners believe the lie. The trouble is with the nature. In the deepest sense, it is with the heart, from which are the issues of life. That heart, and the entire nature with it, is corrupt. To that corrupt nature the lie looks good, and the way of sin is attractive, beautiful, desirable to make one wise.

For the same reason, salvation is not a matter of education or of reformation. It is a matter of a divinely and sovereignly wrought, radical change of the heart: a change that is powered by the crucified and risen Lord, a change from death unto life. That marvelous change of regeneration – a change through which all things, God, self, sin, the trugh of God’s Word, appear different, radically different – the change is before all else the work of God’s grace. That wonder-work of regeneration is a resurrection from the dead: and it is the work of God alone, through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and raised.

(to be continued)