Yesterday, as I was working through the Good Book Guide “Biblical Manhood” with a friend, we discussed what happened in Genesis 3 in the Fall. In particular, we began to think about how the serpent (Satan) deceived Eve. The guide led us to consider how Eve was tempted to think about God’s Word and how we are tempted to heed the same tempting words of the serpent. After some discussion on our part, we turned to the guide, which summed up Satan’s temptations toward Eve as portraying God’s Word as unclear, untrue, and unfair.
First, the crafty serpent comes to Eve and tempts her to believe that God’s Word is unclear. He asks “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” If you have read chapter 2, you know that God did not actually say that, but “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Yet, Eve responds not with the clear word of God but with “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” Whoa! Hang on a minute Eve, God didn’t say anything about touching it! Sure it would be wise not to touch it or even go near it but that’s not what God said. The serpent’s questioning of the clarity of God’s Word brought doubt to the mind of Eve, leading her to add to it and question her own understanding of it.
Next, we see Satan questioning the truthfulness of God’s Word. After Eve’s first response, the serpent rebuts, “You will not surely die.” Now we know we are in dangerous waters. This is clearly not what God has said but Satan has already brought doubt concerning the clarity of God’s Word, so he has an open door to twist it to his own conclusions. If it appears unclear to her what God has said, why couldn’t the serpent’s interpretation be valid or at least plausible? But this is not what God has said. He said if they eat of that one tree they WILL die. No question. No ambiguous language. Completely clear and, as they and all of mankind know, completely true, for death is the great leveler of all mankind.
Lastly, the serpent continues on, tempting Eve to believe that God’s Word and, therefore, God Himself is unfair. After questioning the truthfulness Satan 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.” He is saying, “God doesn’t want you to eat because He is keeping something from you, something good, something you deserve.” He questions God’s goodness and His truthfulness. Yet the great deception here is not from God but from Satan, for Adam and Eve were already like God, made in His image. His withholding was His protection over them, not an unfair keeping from them. As their Creator, He knew what what they were created for and the best working out of that purpose, so their was even grace in the command not to eat. Yet, Eve, turning from God and His Word, with the desire of the flesh (good for food), desire of the eyes (delight to the eyes), and the pride in possessions (desired to make one wise), took, ate, gave, and saw, plunging all of mankind into sin, death, and condemnation and bringing forth a curse upon all creation.
But the story does not end here. The same temptations that the crafty one brought to Eve are temptations that each of us face. We are constantly tempted to think of God’s Word as unclear, untrue, or unfair. When it comes to the temptation to think God’s Word is unclear, we are often like Eve. We either add to it, thinking we are clarifying what was said or we doubt whether we can really understand it confidently, both of which are dangerous. There is no doubt that there are things in God’s Word that are hard to understand, for Scripture declares such about itself but it never says that we won’t be able to understand or be confident in the clarity of it. When such difficult things arise in the Word, or even at times things that are not so hard, we are tempted to add to it, thinking that we are really explaining more or better, while in reality we are explaining it away, making the divine human, robbing it of its power. When we don’t agree with others on certain issues, rather than turning to the Word for understanding and correction, we merely claim that its a matter of interpretation or opinion, leading us to conclude that the Word is unclear and our comprehension can never be trusted. This is a slippery slope that leads to all kinds of doubt and skepticism concerning God’s Word. If God’s Word is unclear, how can we be sure we understand anything, particularly the essentials (God, man, gospel, salvation, Bible, etc.)?
But the Word of God is clear. Again, I acknowledge that there are things that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), but that in no ways means it is unclear. God says His Word makes wise the simple and is pure enlightening the eyes (Ps 19:7-8), gives light and imparts understanding to the simple (Ps 119:130), able to make one wise for salvation and is God-breathed and therefore able to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:15-17), brings freedom from darkness and sin (John 8:31), renews the mind (Rom. 12:1-2), brings forth faith and new birth by the work of the Spirit, (Rom. 10:17, 1 Peter 1:23), in it we find all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and on and on. If God’s Word is unclear and we cannot stand confidently on it how could the Word accomplish any of those things? More than that, Scripture is God’s Word – it is His communication to us that we might know Him, love Him, and be reconciled to Him. Clarity is a must. Though there will be those who come to differences when seeking to understand the Word, the problem is not with the Bible but shows the presence of the effects of sin on our minds, our own ignorance, assumptions, and attempts to make the infinite finite. God has been gracious in that, even with these hindrances, He has given us His Spirit in Christ to give us understanding as well as teachers within the church to guide us in the truth and clarity of the Word.
We also face the crafty words of the devil like Eve, tempting us to believe that God’s Word is untrue. This is extremely deadly. We are tempted to deny parts that make us uncomfortable whether it concerns who God is and what He has done or whether is concerns who we are, what’s wrong with us, and what we need. Any denial of its truthfulness leads to death, as seen with Adam and Eve. It doesn’t matter if you understand it when determining its truthfulness. It is only by faith that we can understand it (Heb. 11:3). We are finite, fallen creatures holding before us the pure and authoritative words of God. Who are we to question, criticize, or deny His Truth? He spoke and it was! His Word is unfading, imperishable, unchanging, truth for He is Truth. The truthfulness of God’s Word flows from His character, for He is a “God, who never lies” (Titus 1:2), and “cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). “Every word of God proves true” (Prov 30:5; Ps 12;6, 119:42; John 17:17). Leading from the question of the Word’s clarity, to deny it is to deny its truthfulness, for as shown, it declares itself to be clear and true.
Finally, we are tempted to question the fairness of God’s Word. Whether it be a concern for the justice of a situation (e.g. destruction of whole cities or God’s choosing of Israel) or commands exhorting right action or prohibiting desirable actions/things (e.g. roles of men and women or lust), we can be easily tempted to think God is unfair and therefore not good for withholding what we think we should have or not doing what we think He should do. Rereading that sentence may reveal the problem. Who is the determining factor on what is right, just, or fair? We are not the determining factor, nor are our conceptions of what is right, just, or fair, but God is – His person and His character determine what is right, just, and fair, which He shows forth in His actions. Don’t think something God did is just? Time to adjust your concept of justice to His. Don’t think something He says or did is right or fair? Time to adjust your understanding of what’s right and wrong to Him.
Fairness is not a biblical concept but justice and righteousness characterize God and are to characterize His people. If we want to demand the justice and righteousness of God under the guise of fairness, we need to understand that we are calling down wrath on all of us. As sinners before a holy and righteous God, all anyone deserves is wrath nothing more. Want to talk of entitlement? Before God, in your sin, you are only entitled to wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love for us shown in Christ, has reconciled us to Himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is by Him and through Him that we are made new, given eyes to see, ears to hears, and minds renewed that we may stand confidently by the Spirit on the clarity, truthfulness, and justice of God’s Word.
Do not heed the deadly words of the serpent but cling to the living Word of God.