Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)
I do not know what the serpent looked like, nor why Adam and Eve were not surprised that he could talk, but I am convinced that he was possessed by Satan, who, in effect, spoke through him (Revelation 12:9). And Satan’s strategy was brilliant and effective. His goal was to get the humans to buy into his own mindset of rebellion against God, his Creator. I am assuming that he was a created angel of God and that he rebelled before humans were created (Revelation 12:7). Now God allowed him into the garden to test Adam and Eve.
God had already set up the test by restricting Adam and Eve from eating of the tree in the middle of the garden called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is the nature of this test that the restriction could not be there because there was something wrong with the tree. It wasn’t poisonous (God’s good creation of the garden surely contained nothing deadly for humans), but God restricted Adam and Eve from eating its fruit simply to see if they would obey Him for no other reason than He said so. He wanted them to trust Him.
So Satan, through the serpent, begins implementing his strategy by misstating God’s restriction: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Though this is a deliberate misstatement because God only restricted them from one tree, the seed is sown that God is a restrictive God. Isn’t that the strategy Satan uses with us? “All these requirements God has for you are so contrary to your nature and seem designed to take all the fun out of life,” he suggests, and our flesh is very alive to that suggestion.
When the woman answers the serpent she gets it right that only one tree is restriced but she presumes that it is restricted because it is dangerous in and of itself. This is suggested by her addition of the prohibition against touching the tree, a prohibition that God did not give her. This sets her up for the next one-two punch from Satan.
He now directly contradicts God and asserts that Adam and Eve won’t die if they eat from the tree. But the kicker is the asserted real reason God has restricted them. “He knows,” Satan avers, “that when you eat from it you will become like Him, able to determine right and wrong for yourselves, and God doesn’t want any rivals.” This, of course, is a direct attack on God’s character and veracity, and especially paints Him as a selfish and unloving Creator.
We know that Eve’s heart has been corrupted at this point, because as she observes the tree and decides that its fruit is good (that doesn’t make sense if the tree can’t be touched without a lethal result) and that it is desirable to make her as wise as God, she decides to eat. After all, if God is not really for her but is holding back from her something so valuable, then He can’t be trusted to take good care of her. The only one who can be trusted to take good care of her is herself. She has become her own God.
This is what Satan wants for us. He wants us to believe in how divine we really are (and by extension, how divine he really is). He wants us to worship ourselves (and then ultimately, him). He wants us to cut our ties with God, throw off His protective chains and destroy ourselves in the process for his benefit. He is in a war with God. To establish his own sovereignty he feels the need to corrupt God’s sovereignty by co-opting His otherwise willing subjects. And we are an expendable cost in the battle.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Who do you believe?