The First Temptation - A Pattern
The First Temptation—A Pattern (Genesis 3:1-6)
As in other matters of human existence, Genesis sheds light on the first experience of temptation. Without question humankind—that means you and me—acts with a self-destructive and self-defeating impulse. From where does that come? More importantly, how can we recognize the way that impulse comes at us? The first instance of temptation provides lasting clues to the dynamics that can lead to personal disintegration. We ought to learn from our first parents something about temptation and how to avoid its devastating effects. There is a process to be observed in the first temptation. We should learn from observing that process.
Temptation Begins with Attention that Should not Be Given
Temptation begins by making something the object of attention that deserves no attention. Eve should have sensed immediately that something was out of order when a serpent spoke to her. That overturned the order of creation itself. We should recognize temptation first as that which overthrows the order, responsibility, and accountability of our lives.
We should pay no attention because of the shrewdness of the tempter. He is indeed "crafty" (v. 1). The word suggests that which is sly, cunning, wily, insidious, and shrewd. He is expert at the art of not appearing to be what he really is. From the first we should understand that his remarks are not what they appear to be and should be examined carefully. No mere human can or ever has resisted his shrewdness unaided. He is indeed able to turn himself into an angel of light.
We should pay no attention because of the strategy of the tempter. His strategy is never frontal or obvious. It is always first a sneak attack, a Trojan horse that promises a gift but holds death. He began his first temptation with a polite discussion about the nature of God, "Did God really say? . . . " It is not a denial of the truth. It is a sly and insinuating statement. He simply suggests that God may not have really meant what God actually said. "Even God Himself would not want to keep something so good as the tree away from someone as deserving as Adam and Eve."
Yet the tempter gives himself away. He calls the Creator "God." He does not use the word Lord God. To the tempter He is a remote figure not really all that interested in what Eve does with the tree in the garden. The first mistake was to pay attention to his words.
Temptation Continues with a Conversation that Should not Be Spoken
Attention became conversation. Eve moved toward the serpent's goal the very moment she began to speak with him. In His temptation, the Lord Jesus did not speak with the devil; He confronted him with the Word of God. There are some things that should never be said.
When we speak with the devil, we minimize God. We minimize the goodness of God. Eve's statement concerning God's prohibition limits the actual generosity of God. God said, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden" (2:16). In Eve's mouth this generosity is minimized (3:2). We begin to minimize the character of God. Eve suddenly stops talking to the Lord God and uses the mere word "God," which the tempter used. By adding the words "You shall not . . . touch it (v. 3, NASB), she suggests that God is too demanding, confining, and strict. Under the fire of temptation, you will find yourself questioning God's character if you intend to yield to the temptation, You will tell yourself, "God has no right to be so strict and so confining." We eventually minimize the command of God. The language of Eve in quoting God's command "You will die" softens the prohibition in the original language. It suggests some question about whether or not such a disastrous result would come from such a trivial act.
On the other hand, when you enter into a dialogue with the devil he will criticize the command of God. "You will not surely die." He moves from insinuation to direct assertion. Having administered the narcotic of scepticism, he puts in the knife of actual denial. God does not mean what He says, according to the devil. Then he calls into question the character of God. God is acting from motives of jealousy (v. 5). "God knows that life will be fuller, more independent, and even exhilarating if you will eat the fruit" (author's words).
It is only a small step then for the adversary to compromise the truth about God. A half-lie will serve the tempter well. "Your eyes will be opened." He suggests that they will really see what life is all about. Adam and Eve thought that would be shrewd. But instead of shrewd, they only saw that they were nude. What they saw was only their own remorse and guilt. The devil had duped them with a half-truth. They would indeed see something new. It turned out to be their own guilt.
Temptation Results in an Action that Should not Be Taken
The end of the story is almost an afterthought. The enemy had won the battle when he got the attention and conversation of Eve. The serpent withdraws and does not say another word. The actual act of taking the fruit was as good as done.
Herein rests the actual lesson. Temptation defeats us before the actual act itself if we give attention and enter into conversation. The sure defense is never to give attention to that which is outside God's order for our lives and never to enter into mental dialogue with the devil about the character and commands of God.
The words of James form the best comment on the entire story: "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (Jas. 1:14-15).