I. The tempter, and that was the devil, in the shape and likeness of a serpent.
1. It is certain it was the devil that beguiled Eve. The devil and Satan is the old serpent (Rev. 12:9), a malignant spirit, by creation an angel of light and an immediate attendant upon God’s throne, but by sin become an apostate from his first state and a rebel against God’s crown and dignity. Multitudes of the angels fell; but this that attacked our first parents was surely the prince of the devils, the ring-leader in the rebellion: no sooner was he a sinner than he was a Satan, no sooner a traitor than a tempter, as one enraged against God and his glory and envious of man and his happiness. He knew he could not destroy man but by debauching him. Balaam could not curse Israel, but he could tempt Israel, Rev. 2:14. The game therefore which Satan had to play was to draw our first parents to sin, and so to separate between them and their God. Thus the devil was, from the beginning, a murderer, and the great mischief-maker. The whole race of mankind had here, as it were, but one neck, and at that Satan struck. The adversary and enemy is that wicked one.
2. It was the devil in the likeness of a serpent. Whether it was only the visible shape and appearance of a serpent (as some think those were of which we read, Exod. 7:12), or whether it was a real living serpent, actuated and possessed by the devil, is not certain: by God’s permission it might be either. The devil chose to act his part in a serpent, (1.) Because it is a specious creature, has a spotted dappled skin, and then went erect. Perhaps it was a flying serpent, which seemed to come from on high as a messenger from the upper world, one of the seraphim; for the fiery serpents were flying, Isa. 14:29. Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in gay fine colours that are but skin-deep, and seems to come from above; for Satan can seem an angel of light. And, (2.) Because it is a subtle creature; this is here taken notice of. Many instances are given of the subtlety of the serpent, both to do mischief and to secure himself in it when it is done. We are directed to be wise as serpents. But this serpent, as actuated by the devil, was no doubt more subtle than any other; for the devil, though he has lost the sanctity, retains the sagacity of an angel, and is wise to do evil. He knew of more advantage by making use of the serpent than we are aware of. Observe, There is not any thing by which the devil serves himself and his own interest more than by unsanctified subtlety. What Eve thought of this serpent speaking to her we are not likely to tell, when I believe she herself did not know what to think of it. At first, perhaps, she supposed it might be a good angel, and yet, afterwards, she might suspect something amiss. It is remarkable that the Gentile idolaters did many of them worship the devil in the shape and form of a serpent, thereby avowing their adherence to that apostate spirit, and wearing his colours.
II. The person tempted was the woman, now alone, and at a distance from her husband, but near the forbidden tree. It was the devil’s subtlety, 1. To assault the weaker vessel with his temptations. Though perfect in her kind, yet we may suppose her inferior to Adam in knowledge, and strength, and presence of mind. Some think Eve received the command, not immediately from God, but at second hand by her husband, and therefore might the more easily be persuaded to discredit it. 2. It was his policy to enter into discourse with her when she was alone. Had she kept close to the side out of which she was lately taken, she would not have been so much exposed. There are many temptations, to which solitude gives great advantage; but the communion of saints contributes much to their strength and safety. 3. He took advantage by finding her near the forbidden tree, and probably gazing upon the fruit of it, only to satisfy her curiosity. Those that would not eat the forbidden fruit must not come near the forbidden tree. Avoid it, pass not by it, Prov. 4:15. 4. Satan tempted Eve, that by her he might tempt Adam; so he tempted Job by his wife, and Christ by Peter. It is his policy to send temptations by unsuspected hands, and theirs that have most interest in us and influence upon us.
III. The temptation itself, and the artificial management of it. We are often, in scripture, told of our danger by the temptations of Satan, his devices (2 Cor. 2:11), his depths (Rev. 2:24), his wiles, Eph. 6:11. The greatest instances we have of them are in his tempting of the two Adams, here, and Matt. 4:1-11. In this he prevailed, but in that he was baffled. What he spoke to them, of whom he had no hold by any corruption in them, he speaks in us by our own deceitful hearts and their carnal reasonings; this makes his assaults on us less discernible, but not less dangerous. That which the devil aimed at was to persuade Eve to cut forbidden fruit; and, to do this, he took the same method that he does still. He questioned whether it was a sin or no, Gen. 3:1. He denied that there was any danger in it, Gen. 3:4. He suggested much advantage by it, Gen. 3:5. And these are his common topics.
1. He questioned whether it was a sin or no to eat of this tree, and whether really the fruit of it was forbidden. Observe,
(1.) He said to the woman, Yea, hath God said, You shall not eat? The first word intimated something said before, introducing this, and with which it is connected, perhaps some discourse Eve had with herself, which Satan took hold of, and grafted this question upon. In the chain of thoughts one thing strangely brings in another, and perhaps something bad at last. Observe here, [1.] He does not discover his design at first, but puts a question which seemed innocent: “I hear a piece of news, pray is it true? has God forbidden you to eat of this tree?” Thus he would begin a discourse, and draw her into a parley. Those that would be safe have need to be suspicious, and shy of talking with the tempter. [2.] He quotes the command fallaciously, as if it were a prohibition, not only of that tree, but of all. God had said, Of every tree you may eat, except one. He, by aggravating the exception, endeavours to invalidate the concession: Hath God said, You shall not eat of every tree? The divine law cannot be reproached unless it be first misrepresented. [3.] He seems to speak it tauntingly, upbraiding the woman with her shyness of meddling with that tree; as if he had said, “You are so nice and cautious, and so very precise, because God has said, You shall not eat.” The devil, as he is a liar, so he is a scoffer, from the beginning: and the scoffers of the last days are his children. [4.] That which he aimed at in the first onset was to take off her sense of the obligation of the command. “Surely you are mistaken, it cannot be that God should tie you out from this tree; he would not do so unreasonable a thing.” See here, That it is the subtlety of Satan to blemish the reputation of the divine law as uncertain or unreasonable, and so to draw people to sin; and that it is therefore our wisdom to keep up a a firm belief of, and a high respect for, the command of God. Has God said, “You shall not lie, nor take his name in vain, nor be drunk,” etc.? “Yes, I am sure he has, and it is well said, and by his grace I will abide by it, whatever the tempter suggests to the contrary.”
(2.) In answer to this question the woman gives him a plain and full account of the law they were under, Gen. 3:2, 3. Here observe, [1.] It was her weakness to enter into discourse with the serpent. She might have perceived by his question that he had no good design, and should therefore have started back with a Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence to me. But her curiosity, and perhaps her surprise, to hear a serpent speak, led her into further talk with him. Note, It is a dangerous thing to treat with a temptation, which ought at first to be rejected with disdain and abhorrence. The garrison that sounds a parley is not far from being surrendered. Those that would be kept from harm must keep out of harm’s way. See Prov. 14:7; 19:27. [2.] It was her wisdom to take notice of the liberty God had granted them, in answer to his sly insinuation, as if God has put them into paradise only to tantalize them with the sight of fair but forbidden fruits. “Yea,” says she, “we may eat of the fruit of the trees, thanks to our Maker, we have plenty and variety enough allowed us.” Note, To prevent our being uneasy at the restraints of religion, it is good often to take a view of the liberties and comforts of it. [3.] It was an instance of her resolution that she adhered to the command, and faithfully repeated it, as of unquestionable certainty: “God hath said, I am confident he hath said it, You shall not eat of the fruit of this tree;” and that which she adds, Neither shall you touch it, seems to have been with a good intention, not (as some think) tacitly to reflect upon the command as too strict (Touch not, taste not and handle not), but to make a fence about it: “We must not eat, therefore we will not touch. It is forbidden in the highest degree, and the authority of the prohibition is sacred to us.” [4.] She seems a little to waver about the threatening, and is not so particular and faithful in the repetition of that as of the precept. God has said, In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die; all she makes of that is, Lest you die. Note, Wavering faith and wavering resolutions give great advantage to the tempter.
2. He denies that there was any danger in it, insisting that, though it might be the transgressing of a precept, yet it would not be the incurring of a penalty: You shall not surely die, Gen. 3:4. “You shall not dying die,” so the word is, in direct contradiction to what God had said. Either, (1.) “It is not certain that you shall die,” so some. “It is not so sure as you are made to believe it is.” Thus Satan endeavours to shake that which he cannot overthrow, and invalidates the force of divine threatenings by questioning the certainty of them; and, when once it is supposed possible that there may be falsehood or fallacy in any word of God, a door is then opened to downright infidelity. Satan teaches men first to doubt and then to deny; he makes them sceptics first, and so by degrees makes them atheists. Or, (2.) “It is certain you shall not die,” so others. He avers his contradiction with the same phrase of assurance that God had used in ratifying the threatening. He began to call the precept in question (Gen. 3:1), but, finding that the woman adhered to that, he quitted that battery, and made his second onset upon the threatening, where he perceived her to waver; for he is quick to spy all advantages, and to attack the wall where it is weakest: You shall not surely die. This was a lie, a downright lie; for, [1.] It was contrary to the word of God, which we are sure is true. See 1 John 2:21, 27. It was such a lie as gave the lie to God himself. [2.] It was contrary to his own knowledge. When he told them there was no danger in disobedience and rebellion he said that which he knew, by woeful experience, to be false. He had broken the law of his creation, and had found, to his cost, that he could not prosper in it; and yet he tells our first parents they shall not die. He concealed his own misery, that he might draw them into the like: thus he still deceives sinners into their own ruin. He tells them that, though they sin, they shall not die; and gains credit rather than God, who tells them, The wages of sin is death. Note, Hope of impunity is a great support to all iniquity, and impenitency in it. I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, Deut. 29:19.
3. He promises them advantage by it, Gen. 3:5. Here he follows his blow, and it was a blow at the root, a fatal blow to the tree we are branches of. He not only would undertake that they should be no losers by it, thus binding himself to save them from harm; but (if they would be such fools as to venture upon the security of one that had himself become a bankrupt) he undertakes they shall be gainers by it, unspeakable gainers. He could not have persuaded them to run the hazard of ruining themselves if he had not suggested to them a great probability of bettering themselves.
(1.) He insinuates to them the great improvements they would make by eating of this fruit. And he suits the temptation to the pure state they were now in, proposing to them, not any carnal pleasures or gratifications, but intellectual delights and satisfactions. These were the baits with which he covered his hook. [1.] “Your eyes shall be opened; you shall have much more of the power and pleasure of contemplation than now you have; you shall fetch a larger compass in your intellectual views, and see further into things than now you do.” He speaks as if now they were but dim-sighted, and short-sighted, in comparison of what they would be then. [2.] “You shall be as gods, as Elohim, mighty gods; not only omniscient, but omnipotent too;” or, “You shall be as God himself, equal to him, rivals with him; you shall be sovereigns and no longer subjects, self-sufficient and no longer dependent.” A most absurd suggestion! As if it were possible for creatures of yesterday to be like their Creator that was from eternity. [3.] “You shall know good and evil, that is, every thing that is desirable to be known.” To support this part of the temptation, he abuses the name given to this tree: it was intended to teach the practical knowledge of good and evil, that is, of duty and disobedience; and it would prove the experimental knowledge of good and evil, that is, of happiness and misery. In these senses, the name of the tree was a warning to them not to eat of it; but he perverts the sense of it, and wrests it to their destruction, as if this tree would give them a speculative notional knowledge of the natures, kinds, and originals, of good and evil. And, [4.] All this presently: “In the day you eat thereof you will find a sudden and immediate change for the better.” Now in all these insinuations he aims to beget in them, First, Discontent with their present state, as if it were not so good as it might be, and should be. Note, No condition will of itself bring contentment, unless the mind be brought to it. Adam was not easy, no, not in paradise, nor the angels in their first state, Jude 1:6. Secondly, Ambition of preferment, as if they were fit to be gods. Satan had ruined himself by desiring to be like the Most High (Isa. 14:14), and therefore seeks to infect our first parents with the same desire, that he might ruin them too.
(2.) He insinuates to them that God had no good design upon them, in forbidding them this fruit: “For God doth know how much it will advance you; and therefore, in envy and ill-will to you, he hath forbidden it:” as if he durst not let them eat of that tree because then they would know their own strength, and would not continue in an inferior state, but be able to cope with him; or as if he grudged them the honour and happiness to which their eating of that tree would prefer them. Now, [1.] This was a great affront to God, and the highest indignity that could be done him, a reproach to his power, as if he feared his creatures, and much more a reproach to his goodness, as if he hated the work of his own hands and would not have those whom he has made to be made happy. Shall the best of men think it strange to be misrepresented and evil spoken of, when God himself is so? Satan, as he is the accuser of the brethren before God, so he accuses God before the brethren; thus he sows discord, and is the father of those that do so. [2.] It was a most dangerous snare to our first parents, as it tended to alienate their affections from God, and so to withdraw them from their allegiance to him. Thus still the devil draws people into his interest by suggesting to them hard thoughts of God, and false hopes of benefit and advantage by sin. Let us therefore, in opposition to him, always think well of God as the best good, and think ill of sin as the worst of evils: thus let us resist the devil, and he will flee from us.