The serpent is introduced to us without any explanation as to the power working in and through him. From verse 1 we gather that he was amongst the beasts of the field that God had made, and that he was "more subtle,"—of a higher order of intelligence—than any other, so that when energized by a higher power, speech was a possibility. The whole serpent tribe, as we know it today, is in a state of great degradation, as verse 14 of our chapter would lead us to expect. As originally created it stood at the head of the animal world, which had been made subject to Adam.
As far as our chapter is concerned, then, it is just the serpent, the visible agent of the mischief, that is mentioned. So also, in 2 Corinthians 11: 3 we read, "the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty." It is not until we reach the last book of the Bible that we get the clearest identification of the serpent with the unseen actor working through it. There twice over in almost identical words do we get, "that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan" (Rev. 12: 9; 20: 2). He is the originator and instigator of that fearful thing, sin, which has invaded this fair creation. Let us mark how he did it.
His first move was to throw doubt on the Word of God. Very little as yet had been revealed, but on one point God had spoken clearly and decisively. The serpent questioned that revelation, distorting what God had said while he questioned it, so as to make his insinuation of doubt more plausible. Moreover he addressed himself, not to the man who was primarily responsible, but to the woman. Of the two links in the human chain she was the weaker, and the adversary struck just there.
In her reply the woman maintained that God had indeed spoken, but she fell into the error of adding to His words, for He had not said, "neither shall ye touch it." To add to His words is as mischievous a thing as subtracting from them. The more one realizes the overwhelming authority of the words of God the more careful one would be in quoting them. It looks as if that authority was already weakened in the woman's mind.
Having gained this initial advantage the serpent struck a far heavier blow, as recorded in verse 4. He boldly denied the word of God. God had plainly stated that if man disobeyed he would involve himself in ruin and death as an inevitable consequence. The serpent denied that any such consequence would follow.
Then he supported this denial by the audacious assertion that the real reason for the prohibition was that God knew that if man partook of the forbidden tree he would be immensely elevated—he would have his eyes opened, knowing good and evil and becoming "as gods." Though he would not become the Lord God, yet he would become an independent being and an object of veneration himself. Thus he blackened the Divine character, representing God as desiring to prevent man being a possible rival to Himself, and to keep him from what was to his advantage. He practically asserted that deity in a modified form was a possibility for man.
Thus the way of disobedience was seductively dressed up as the illuminated highway to enlarged knowledge and vastly increased importance. In truth it proved to be a dark and depressing road to utter disaster. Knowledge of good and evil there would be, but without power to do the good or to avoid the evil. Whoever commits sin becomes the slave of sin, as our Lord said so emphatically in John 8: 34.
All this sheds much light upon our own times. We have the word of God in the Divine Writings—the Holy Scriptures—but as the centuries passed they became inoperative, because withheld from the people and buried in an unknown tongue. About four centuries ago they were unearthed, translated, circulated, and their light once again began to shine. Then about the middle of the eighteenth century the devil's counter-attack was formally launched, and the same tactics employed.
First, came the questioning of Divine revelation, the casting of doubt on the word of God in the so-called "higher criticism" of the Bible. Second, there came the denial of the ruin of man and of the fact that death is the wages of sin. The fact of death cannot of course be denied, but it can be regarded as a debt that we all pay to nature, so as to clear the way for men of a higher and yet higher character to be evolved. Third, came the bold assertion of deity—of a sort —for man. Man is considered the most god-like being of which we have any certain knowledge. This deification of man will come to a head in the antichrist that is yet to be. The root of all this is seen in Genesis 3.
The trap set by the serpent was cunningly devised. Verse 6 shows that the fruit of the tree had its natural appeal to the flesh. It was "pleasant" or "a desire," to the eyes, and further the lie of the devil so presented it as to appeal to pride. The elements of the world, according to 1 John 2: 16, were all present, and in their cumulative effect overwhelmed the woman. She acted independently of God and of her husband. She took and did eat the fruit. She gave to her husband, who wrongfully accepted her lead in the matter, and he too disobeyed.
This account of the fall, given to us by God, is often refused and even ridiculed. The awful evil that fills the earth cannot be denied, but to declare, they say, that it all sprang from Adam disobediently eating so small a thing as an apple is quite absurd. The absurdity however is on the part of those who think thus. The devil is far too astute to try inserting first the thick end of the wedge. Just as a railway train is only diverted from the main line to a branch over very fine points, so man slipped from the line of disobedience over what appeared on the surface to be a small thing. There was no shortage or want, urging to this disobedience. They were not hungry. It was just pure defiance of God's command, just that lawlessness which is sin, according to the correct translation of 1 John 3: 4.
The man and his wife were now creatures fallen from their original estate, and the results of this fall begin to unroll themselves. First, in verse 7, we have the effect upon themselves. In innocence they had been happily free from self-consciousness, as we saw in the last verse of Genesis 2. Now they were very self-conscious and ashamed, and stirred to feeble and ineffectual attempts to hide their shame. We say feeble, because everyone who knows the shape of a fig leaf must admit that any apron sewed from such must have been elaborate patchwork and easily destroyed. We say ineffectual, because verse 10 shows that immediately Adam found himself in the presence of God he confessed himself as naked, just as though the fig leaf apron had never been made.
Second, we have that which verse 8 emphasizes. Their relations with God were ruined. Gone was the happy footing that had existed for so short a time between a beneficent God and His innocent creature. Alienation had come in. The presence of the Lord God inspired them with fear and not pleasure. Their one idea was to hide themselves from Him, and for that purpose they would use the very trees of the garden, which had been given to them for their food and their pleasure. Thus the earthly and material blessings granted to them they turned into a curse.
Verses 7 and 8 are full of gloom. A ray of light however appears in verse 9. The Lord God might instantly have discarded the guilty pair and consigned them to their doom. Instead of that He sought them out; a sure indication that He had designs for their ultimate blessing. His call was, "Where art thou?" In response to this Adam had to reveal his whereabouts, and by attempting to cover his nakedness he uncovered his sin.
What is man's position as a fallen sinner? Where is he, now that he has broken loose from the Divine control? This is the first question of the Old Testament, and the rest of it works out the answer in all its hideous detail, till we come to the closing chapter of Malachi, ending with the significant word, "curse." We open the New Testament and not without design do we find the first question on record to be "Where is He . . .?" (Matt. 2: 2). We read on, to discover the glorious answer to this, and close the Revelation with Jesus as the coming One, the bright, morning Star, and meanwhile His grace resting as a benediction upon all His saints. The contrast is complete.
Having constituted Adam as the responsible head, the Lord God dealt directly with him, and challenged him as to his disobedience. Adam admitted it, and what he said in verse 12 was true, but stated so as to cast the blame on Eve, and even in an indirect manner upon God Himself. "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me" led me into this disobedience; the inference being that if God had not presented Eve to him all would have been well. Man's deep-seated sinful instincts are at once revealed. If he cannot deny his guilt he will blame somebody else, and if possible blame God.
In turning to the woman the Lord God asked a second question as to what she had done. The first had raised the question of man's state; now the second challenges his acts. Eve admitted she had eaten of the tree but blamed the serpent. As with Adam so again here, what she said was true, for the serpent did beguile her, but her effort clearly was to shift the onus of the act from herself. In this connection Romans 2: 15 is very illuminating, though we have to add that apart from the working of the Spirit of God in the conscience the invariable tendency of sinful men is to indulge in the "accusing" of others and the "excusing" of themselves. So it was at the outset, but the truth was now out, as to the man, and the woman, and the serpent.
This being so, the Lord God pronounced the judgment that was to fall upon the sinners, beginning with the serpent and working back to the man. The. serpent is recognized as the originator of the mischief; hence for him it is all judgment without a ray of light. The woman and the man were his victims; hence the only gleam is reserved for them.
The solemn words of verse 14 apply entirely to the serpent as a creature which God had made. It is degraded from the highest to the lowest place in the scale of creation. The opening words of verse 15 apply in the same way. The average man, if he espies a serpent, has only one thought—to kill it! The second part of the verse has in view however the great spiritual foe, who was operating through the serpent.
He has a "seed;" that is, progeny who are of his order in a spiritual sense, and they with him are in deadly enmity and opposition to the "Seed" of the woman. In the mention of this "Seed," we have the first intimation of the great Deliverer, the Christ, who was one day to come.
The first prediction of the Christ, then, came from the Lord God Himself and was entrusted to no human lips. It is, we may say, the germinal thought out of which every subsequent prophecy sprang, and it contains at least four very striking features.
Firstly, all through the realms of creation, from man downwards, seed appertains to the male and not the female. Hence the seed of the woman is not according to nature as we know it. It is something outside that which had just been constituted and points forward to a new creation. The Lord Jesus was born of a virgin and here we have the first intimation of that fact, which is a vital one. No taint of the fall attached to Him. He was not merely innocent, as was Adam at the start. He was holy.
Secondly, this announcement of the Seed of the woman was given before any "seed," or race of Adam had appeared or even been mentioned. That seed only appears at the start of Genesis 4, and a sorry start it is. Adam is recognized in Scripture as the first man and the head of the race that sprang from him through the woman. Christ is the Second Man and the Leader of God's chosen race. But the Second Man was always first in the thought of God, and evidence of this we find here.
Thirdly, the conflict between the two seeds is to end in the complete victory of the woman's Seed. He is to "bruise," or "crush" the serpent's head, the head being the seat of its life and intelligence. The bright gleam of hope, given at the very moment of the entrance of sin, contained then not only the announcement of the coming of a Deliverer—a Man of another order—but also of His full victory over the author of the disaster, reducing him to eternal impotence. How much our first parents understood of this is another matter. But there the announcement stood right from the outset.
Fourthly, it was intimated that this overwhelming victory should cost some suffering to the Victor. The serpent in the process of the conflict should bruise His heel. In walking, the heel is the first part of the foot to come into contact with the earth. The figure of speech is a telling one, for it was when He first touched the earth in His holy Manhood that the Victor suffered. He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death— that death that was instigated by the craft of Satan.
Having dealt with the serpent the Lord God turned to the woman. A twofold judgment fell upon her; the result in God's government of her sin. Childbirth was to become a time of sorrow and suffering for her, and she was more definitely made subject to the rule of her husband. There has been much scheming in our day to get rid of both these things, but nothing can really abolish them.
Then Adam came up for judgment, and the governmental effects of his sin are more clearly seen. He had hearkened to the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to what God had said, and now he must face the fruits of it. The ground is cursed for his sake. He must earn his livelihood from it with sweat and sorrow until death should overtake him, when his body should return to the dust out of which it was taken. Nothing is said here as to his soul and spirit, for it is the governmental rather than the eternal consequences that are in view. There is an equal amount of scheming to get rid of the sweat and toil and men may think they are going to achieve it. But already we have heard the slogan, "We work or we want;" to that we may add, "We sweat or we starve;" for we can no more dodge that part of the curse than we can escape death.
It was at this point apparently that Adam gave the name of Eve to his wife. She is the mother of all living. Ages had to pass and another woman be found before the Seed of the woman appeared.