The Shape of the Temptation

waltkeBruce Waltke is at his best on Genesis 3:1-6:

“First, Satan is an outspoken theologian who hates God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls their dialogue ‘the first conversation about God…. It is not prayer or calling upon God together, but speaking about God, going beyond him.’ …He damages Eve’s relationship with God by an evaluative question. He sneers, ‘Did God really say?’ The practical effect is to hook Eve into a dialogue that opens her mind to a whole new realm of possibility. Satan has no advantage over Eve or us until he diverts our attention with the possibility of disobeying. …The first step into sin is to allow Satan to entice us into questioning the truthfulness of God’s Word.

Second, Satan rephrases God’s command into a question. He poses himself as a serious theologian: ‘Isn’t this only Adam’s testimony to what God said? How do you know? Is this really God’s command? Let’s debate it. Let’s have a discussion about it: Is it reasonable? Loving? Just? Or even plausible? Is there a possibility of misinterpretation? Is this command historically conditioned?’ Within the framework of faith, these questions are proper and necessary, but when they are designed to lead us away from the simplicity of childlike obedience, they are wrong. Therefore, the second step into sin is to raise questions of interpretation designed to create doubt that leads us away from the simplicity of childlike obedience.

Third, Satan emphasizes God’s prohibition. He distorts God’s gracious command, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden’ (Gen. 2:16), into ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’ (3:1). the pragmatic effect of the question is to get Eve focused on what she cannot do. Instead of setting her sights on the gift of the Tree of Life and the freedom to enjoy all the other trees, the woman focuses on the one forbidden tree. …We take a third step toward sin when we focus on the forbidden thing rather than on God’s true blessings.

Fourth, Satan casts doubt on God’s sincerity and defames his motives as self-regard, not love. He says, ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Gen. 3:5). The essence of the Serpent’s message is that God is limiting Eve, restricting her from her full humanity. Today we hear this philosophy everywhere: Be liberated! Be free! Self-actualize! Unleash your inner potential! The Serpent’s message even echoes in the church. Instead of sanctification, the church seeks self-improvement. Instead of holiness, the church seeks happiness. Whenever you hear this, have no doubt that what you hear is the hiss of the Serpent, the temptation to become something apart from what you were created to be. With this fourth step, we continue stumbling toward sin by misrepresenting God’s intentions and resenting what we imagine as unfair restrictions….

Fifth, Satan denies the truth of God’s Word: ‘You will not surely die’ (Gen. 3:4). This is the next logical step of sin, for the fruit of doubt and resentment is unbelief. If God’s words are a hindrance, the Serpent suggests that we ignore them or deny them. So in the modern church, many people prefer not to talk about, or in fact deny, sin and the judgment of hell because they hinder the quest for self-actualization, make people feel guilty, or lower their self-esteem. People outside of the church are represented as losing out, not as being lost. Sadly many evangelical churches are in the process of buying into a guilt-free, pain-free, judgment-free gospel. The hiss of the Serpent is deafening and his bite is lethal.

The woman gradually yields to Satan’s denials and half-truths. She disparages her privileges, considering the gift of the garden as not comparable to the fruit of one tree. …Having stripped Eve of her spiritual defenses, Satan’s work is done. Without God, the decision comes down to pragmatism (‘the fruit of the tree was good for food’), aesthetics (‘pleasing to the eye’), and self-improvement (‘desirable for gaining wisdom’).

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