I had posted a version of this a while back as part of my Genesis series, but I wanted to re-post it here (since it comes up often enough) just from the view to examining Satan’s lies. I personally don’t think the Devil can read our thoughts, but I think he’s subtle enough that he doesn’t have to. The Serpent in Genesis 3 is introduced as being craftier than any beast of the field which the Ruling Lord Creator God had made. This is an important textual point notifying the reader to attention; ensuring that the reader examines the subtleties of the text.
Setting The Trap: Feelers
The serpent says something to the woman that in many texts it portray as a mere question: “Has God said “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?'” (Gen 3:1) I think the text is more nuanced.
First, the serpent makes sure to avoid speaking to the man: the person who had (according to the text) personally received the message of the Lord. By going to the person once removed, there is a way to affect the truth.
Second, In Genesis 2, we’ll note that God said no such thing (above). He told man that he could eat freely from any tree of the garden—this, therefore is a lie. Not an outright lie; the snake doesn’t say “God said not to eat of any tree whatsoever” which would be an outright lie. The sphere is limited to the realm of the crowning exemplification of creation: Eden. Immediately it will remind the hearer of the one prohibition.
Third, Satan softens the edge of the lie by presenting it as gossip. The snake, in horror goes running off to Eve and asks her (not Adam) “Oh gasp! Tell me what I’m hearing isn’t so! Did God really say you can’t eat from any tree of the Garden?”
Fourth, he refers to God as the Creator God (Elohim Gen 1:1) and not as the Sovereign Lord (Yahweh Gen 2:4). It’s like calling a ruler of a country by his first name: he’s an authority figure, but he’s not in charge over me. So, he offers a lie, cloaks it in gossip and sneakily shifts language when naming God.
The woman quickly puts down the rumor-lie stating that God (Elohim) has invited them to eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden except for the fruit on the tree in the middle of the Garden; a fruit they can’t eat or touch.
She fell into the subtle trap. She refers to God not as Lord (Yahweh) but as the Creator God (Elohim)—adopting the Serpent’s language. She corrects the lie, squashes the gossip and embraces the Serpent’s lingo.
Shaking the Bait: Her Insecurities
But it doesn’t end there. Eve, already playing lose with the authority of her Sovereign Father, expands His prohibition which gives us (and the Serpent) a peek into her thinking.
First: Lord God said that they could freely eat of every tree in the garden save one (Gen 2:16,17). That’s not only fruit; that’s vegetation. That’s roots to fruit: a veritable feast. In her mind, she’s already limiting God’s provision for life.
Second: she states that they can’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Which tree? (Gen 2:9) There are two trees in the middle of the garden, yet Eve’s mind is focused on the one that was banned. So God’s command is suddenly needlessly restrictive
Third: she states that if they were to eat…or even touch…that Tree they would die. Words are stuffed in God’s mouth and His severity is cranked up. God’s mercy and goodness are subsumed in his harshness and all because she played loose with what He actually did say.
Reeling Her In: Benefits of Independence from Lord God
The Serpent takes this restrictive, burdensome and malleable word of God from her lips and easily denies it (Gen 3:4). Once the Word of God has been bent, cast into a bad light and proven to be more trouble than good, a denial is simple: “God knows that the day you eat you’ll be like God knowing good and evil.”
The Serpent unveils that God is merely a lucky tyrant bent on keeping Eve down by using lies and threats. He insinuates that whatever her position now, it is not a good one; she must move on to a better position with opened eyes and equal power with God.
What is interesting here is that the Serpent is using the truth against her. For her eyes will be opened (Gen 3:7) and she would be like God (Gen 3:22). But the truth doesn’t matter since she is already doubting the word of God and has appropriated Satan’s language in regards to her Heavenly Father. Truth now has a provocative quality without consideration of the very real danger that comes with these supposed benefits.
But at this point, Eve has been pulled in and is flopping around in the bottom of the Serpent’s bucket.
She looks at the tree (the conversation apparently ended at a convenient locale in the center of the Garden) and notices that the fruit is:
1) Life-sustaining: you need it to eat to live. The fact that God’s burden is banning them from what supports life reflects on God’s cruelty.
2) Aesthetically pleasing: it’s a good looking fruit. The fact that God’s restrictive command is barring them from what is beautiful reveals that God has kept things hidden; refusing to share the best.
3) Intellectually fulfilling: it makes one smart. The fact that God’s limiting command is barring them from their full potential ensures that God is indeed jealous of them.
The Serpent’s deception has come full circle. For it was the Lord God in his goodness created everything to have food; and it was the Lord God who was the source of all wisdom and creativity; it was the Lord God who breathed life into them. Yet by getting Eve to revel in her desires, the Serpent slaughters both of them. For it is after she is deceived and eats Adam (who was not deceived but transgressed God’s law), notices that his wife doesn’t drop dead, reaches out, and takes the bite that cursed us all.
Satan didn’t need access to Eve’s thoughts; he just needed to lay down enough traps to see which one goes off. From there he can build upon the information he receives to destroy her and her husband.
One reply on “Analysis of A Lie”
You are quite scholarly in your approach to bible study. I thought you might be interested on what the “authentic” ie; Orthodox Jewish view is.
(I lifted this from my jewish learning.com)
The Hebrew word “Satan” means “Hinderer.” To hinder someone means to hold him back, to try to prevent him from doing something. G-d created the Hinderer to give us work to do in this world (see my article Why did G-d Create the World?). Satan is here to make things difficult for us, so we can overcome our evil temptations, and PASS the test. That is the purpose of Satan. Satan is an angel whose purpose has been determined by G-d.
Temptation is there to try and deter us. It gives us the ability to do the wrong thing. More importantly, it gives us the ability to look at evil and refuse to do it. By presenting us with the opportunity to do evil, it gives us the ability to choose between good and evil.
The ability to choose between good and evil is what gives us free will. (See my article On the Nature of Free Will.
So, in order for us to work for the good that Hashem wants to give us, the good of the World to Come, we need something to deter us. That is the ability to do evil. Satan is our Evil Inclination (Yetzer Hara). The Evil Inclination tries to prevent us from doing good, because Hashem has commanded the Evil Inclination to do that. Why? To give us free will.
Each of us every day fights with Satan. We all have temptations, throughout the day. But we, as the Children of Israel, have the power to overcome even angels, if we work at it. Therefore, the Talmud says that men are greater than angels, for we can fight with an angel (Satan) and win.
Satan is not, as the Christians think, a rebellious angel. How impossible! The angels are spiritual and holy, without any physical or unholy presence, and the presence of Hashem’s holiness permeates them entirely. Angels, unlike humans, are therefore constantly and fully aware of Hashem’s Presence everywhere. Could you stay dry in the ocean? An angel could not stop being holy, and can do no wrong. There is holiness everywhere in Creation, everywhere in the universe, and angels are made of the same thing. An angel could not stop serving G-d even if he tried.
Furthermore, humans have Satan to tempt us. Angels have no Satan to tempt them. Who would be Satan’s Satan? An ultra-Satan?
The truth is that Satan has a job to do, just like every other angel. And angels have no free will. They do as Hashem commands them.
A man once came to a great Rabbi, very troubled. He said to the Rabbi, “Please pray to Hashem to take away my Evil Inclination. I do so many sins, and I want to stop sinning!”
The Rabbi answered, “Then what would be your purpose in this world, if you had no Evil Inclination? Your purpose in life is to overcome your personal Evil Inclination. That is what you were created for! Hashem has enough angels in heaven. He doesn’t need one more. He created you human, so that you could improve yourself.”
Humans can improve themselves, and that is their purpose in this world. Angels, however, cannot improve themselves. That’s not their purpose. Angels are therefore said to be “standing.” They cannot become better, and they cannot rise any higher than they are. They are, so to speak, standing.