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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God reveals the sneaky strategy Satan employed at the beginning
Text:Genesis 3:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-11-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 1 (after the law)

Psalm 36

Hymn 53

Psalm 81:1-3

Scripture reading:  Genesis 3

Text:  Genesis 3:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

It was March 23, 1924 and the minister of the Reformed church in Amsterdam South was having a catechism sermon on Lord’s Day 3.  Rev. Geelkerken was preaching about the fall and disobedience of our first parents Adam and Eve in paradise.  In his sermon, he suggested that it’s possible that there was no literal snake speaking to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He didn’t deny it, but in his sermon he opened the door to question it.  One of the regular church members, br. H. Marinus, heard this and he couldn’t let it rest.  He went to his consistory with an objection.  The consistory stood behind the minister.  But Marinus was convinced that his pastor was going astray, so he appealed to classis.  The matter went to a regional synod, and all the way to a general synod.  Marinus was eventually vindicated.  The churches decided that Rev. Geelkerken was in serious error and he was suspended and deposed.  Now the process by which he was suspended and deposed was unlawful according to the church order, but the conclusion regarding his views was certainly the correct one.

How ironic that someone would question the serpent’s speaking in a passage like this!  The serpent wanted our first parents to question God’s Word.  In the 1920s, and up till today, people are still giving in to that temptation to question God’s Word.  They even question whether the serpent incited our first parents to question God’s Word and whether it happened in exactly the way described in Scripture.  Almost all scientists say it’s impossible for serpents to speak, therefore it could not have happened as described in the Bible.  So we impose our supposedly superior scientific expertise on the Bible and judge the Bible by that. 

Loved ones, let’s quickly set aside all such arrogance.  Let’s have the Word of God speak for itself, on its own terms.  God has given us his revelation here in the form of history.  He speaks to us in his Word and reveals how our first parents were led astray by the evil one.  He gives us that revelation so that we can recognize his strategies in our own day and in our lives and so that we can then resist him.  So I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see here that God reveals the sneaky strategy Satan employed at the beginning.

We’ll consider Satan and his:

  1. Hijacking of God’s creation
  2. Doubt of God’s character
  3. Perversion of God’s Word

Our text is found at the very beginning, right after the creation of Adam and Eve.  After God created Eve, he presided at the first marriage ceremony.  Chapter 2 ends with those well-known words, “And the man and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed.”  They were in a state of innocence.  They’d also been entrusted with dominion over God’s creation.  Adam and Eve were God’s vice-regents in Eden.  God had commanded them to subdue the earth and rule over its creatures.  That was their calling and their office from the beginning.

This creation they were to rule over was the creation that God had called “very good” in Genesis 1:31.  God had declared all the creatures to be good too, including “all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.”  This was a good world that our Father called into existence out of nothing.  That good world included good creatures of every sort.

That included snakes.  Some people are creeped out by snakes.  Some have a fear of snakes.  Others, including myself, find them fascinating and some even keep them as pets.  But there are still other people who regard snakes as somehow inherently evil, because of the role of a serpent in the fall into sin.  But brothers and sisters, we ought not to miss the fact that snakes were created good by God.  There is nothing inherently evil with them, any more than there is anything inherently evil with Yorkie puppies.  They are all God’s good creatures. 

This is captured in the fact that our text reminds us that the serpent was one of the beasts “the LORD God had made.”  The serpent was his handiwork.  When you see a snake today too, this creature is from our Father’s hand.

Now what happens is that Satan hijacks one of God’s good creatures and uses it for an evil purpose.  It’s true that our text by itself doesn’t specify that it was Satan acting and speaking.  But we know this from elsewhere in Scripture.  Just think of how the last book of the Bible speaks of Satan.  In Revelation 12(:9) and in Revelation 20(:2), Satan is identified as “that serpent of old.”  It’s well-established that our text is speaking of Satan.  And who is Satan, you ask?  He is the leader of the evil angels who rebelled against God sometime before our text.  Satan is the great enemy of God who seeks to destroy everything good that God has made, and seeks to thwart every purpose of God.     

But why does Satan choose this particular creature to tempt Eve to sin?  It has to do with one of the characteristics of the snake.  God created them with craftiness and cunning.  The shape and size of many snakes enables them to be sneaky as they move around.  Remember also how our Lord Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 10(:16) to be “as wise as serpents.”  Snakes know what’s going on around them; they’re cautious and careful.  They find good hiding places and they can be hard to see, and even harder to catch.  Snakes were created in all these ways, and in themselves, these are not bad or evil things.  Peacocks were created with flamboyance and an eagerness to get noticed and snakes were created with sneakiness and craftiness.  But it’s these qualities that leads Satan to this creature.  These qualities would best serve Satan’s evil purposes.  Satan had to make his approach with stealth and the serpent was perfectly suited for that.  That’s why Satan possesses this good creature of God.

There’s another aspect here and that has to do with the human he approaches.  He doesn’t come to the man, but to the woman.  Why?  Some have said that he selects the weaker sex.  With that view, the woman is by nature intellectually weaker, and more vulnerable to the lofty and persuasive arguments of the devil.  It’s true that 1 Peter 3:7 says that the woman is weaker, but that’s not speaking about moral, spiritual, or mental ability.  Peter is speaking about the typically superior physical strength of men when compared with women.  But there’s nothing in our text to suggest that Satan went after Eve because she was weaker in her mind or something like that.  Rather, the context suggests that he chose her because first, Adam was the one who received the commission directly to guard the garden, not Eve.  Adam could be expected to be on his guard – a man’s calling is to protect.  And second, the commands about what could be eaten and not eaten in the Garden had been given directly to Adam, not Eve.  Adam could be expected to remember more vividly what God had spoken.  So Satan chooses the woman rather than the man.  He goes after what he perceives to be the weak link first and then he hopes to use her against the man.  In this too, Satan was attempting to take over a good creature of God, the woman, and use her for evil.          

So, you see, Satan hijacks God’s good creation and he twists it and uses it for his own evil plans, both with the serpent and with the woman.  That’s what he did at the very beginning, he did throughout the Bible, and he still does the same today.  There are so many good and lovely things that God has created that Satan hijacks for his wicked purposes.   

As one example, think of marriage and the way it’s been undermined in our society.  If it’s not being cheapened by easy divorce or neglected through common law relationships, then people are trying to redefine it.  God created marriage as a good institution between one man and one woman.  Satan and his forces have attempted a takeover, twisting something good for the validation of same-sex relationships -- entirely turning over God’s good design for people.

For another example, think of science.  In itself, science is not evil.  Science is simply the study of the natural world, the good natural world that our God made and that our God maintains.  We’re not anti-science, but we do object to unbelieving science that refuses to bow the knee to the Word of God.  We object when fallen people hijack science and turn it against God and his Word.  Satan and his forces cannot be excluded from this, and at the very least, they are certainly pleased with this.  This is exactly what he has aimed for from the beginning.  Take something good and beautiful in itself and commandeer it and turn it against its Creator.

Now there is good news here.  Ironically, Satan turned Eve against God and used this good creature for his evil purposes, but later, in the fullness of time God took a fallen daughter of Eve named Mary and used her for his good purpose, to bring our Saviour into this world.  The good news is that this Saviour has victory over Satan.  This evil, wicked Serpent has had his head crushed at Golgotha by our Lord Jesus.  While this victory has been decisively won, the mopping up operations continue today.  Today Satan is limited in what he can do, and while he still can and does abuse God’s creation, we have the promise that our Saviour will return for judgment and redemption.  His salvation has cosmic significance.  Because of Christ, the prophecy of Isaiah 11:6-9 will come to pass.  Isaiah speaks there of the new heavens and new earth.  This is a new creation where the wolf lives with the lamb, the leopard lives with the goat, calves and lions side by side, cows and bears…and little babies with cobras, and toddlers with vipers.  None of God’s creatures will turn against man, not of their own accord, and not by Satanic possession either.  Because of the salvation we have in Christ, there will be peace and harmony in creation, as it was in the beginning.

The take away from this is for us today to be alert to Satan’s strategies.  On the one hand, we can’t fall into the trap of regarding everything created as evil.  That would steer us towards the error of Gnosticism, where only spiritual or non-material things are good.  On the other hand, as Christians, we have to be discerning about how Satan can take good things and try to turn them against their and our Creator.  He did it in the beginning, he did it throughout the Bible, and he’ll continue to do it today.  Brothers and sisters, be on your guard!  But also ensure that you’re not his willing accomplice in these evil things.  Don’t have anything to do with his strategy.  Don’t pervert God’s good creation yourself, but rather make sure that you use it for his purposes.    

Another key strategy of Satan is that he tempts people to doubt God’s character.  We can see that in a couple of ways in our text.  The first is the more obvious.  The devil suggests that God is less than generous with the Garden of Eden and what he allows the man and woman to eat from that garden.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.’?”  He fakes surprise at how God would be so stingy with the trees in the garden.  How could God hold back the fruit of these trees from Eve and Adam?  Now, of course, you may already recognize that God didn’t actually do or say that.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  But notice for now how Satan is trying to cast doubt on God’s character.  There are so many trees in the Garden of Eden.  You can imagine.  Mango trees, mangoes have to be the best fruit in the world.  Orange trees, apple trees, maybe even banana trees for those who like bananas.  And many more besides.  Now Satan is saying, look at how awful God is, he won’t let you touch any of the fruit of those trees, will he?  Those mangoes look great, but God – not so much.

This seems to me to suggest that the fall into sin took place quite early on in the Garden.  It’s not likely that Satan would use this strategy with people who had been eating mangoes and oranges and so on for several weeks or months already.  Rather, it appears that he comes soon after God gave his command and right away tries to cast doubt on God’s goodness and provision.  He hints that God’s idea for them is to eat grass and leaves, not fruit.

That should have been so immediately and obviously false.  Not only did Adam and Eve have God’s express permission to eat from almost every single tree in the Garden, but they had also experienced his goodness at their wedding.  God gave them to one another to become one flesh.  For Adam that meant he would no longer be lonely.  He would have a helper.  Eve would have a husband to love and help.  Today when we celebrate Christian weddings, the married couple has great joy in God – do you think it was any different at the first wedding?  God had revealed his character to them by his actions for them.  He gave them a good and beautiful garden, he gave them abundant food and water, and he gave them to each other.  All this goodness! 

He had also entered into a relationship of fellowship with them.  We call that the covenant.  He established a bond between himself and them.  We can see evidence of that bond in the way God is described in chapter 2.   Through Moses (the human author), the Holy Spirit calls him the LORD God, with LORD in all capital letters.  That’s significant because that’s God’s personal covenant Name, Yahweh.  So, to translate more literally, Moses is writing about Yahweh God.  This is also what we find at the beginning of verse 1 of chapter 3.  Yahweh God is said to be the creator of all the wild animals.  He is also Yahweh, the personal God who has a relationship of fellowship with the man and the woman in the garden. 

But notice how subtly Satan speaks.  He doesn’t speak about Yahweh.  Now you might think that’s because Eve didn’t know that personal name of God.  But skip ahead to the beginning of chapter 4 and you can see in verse 1 that she did know the name of Yahweh, the personal name of God.  Satan could have used it and she would have known who he was speaking about.   Instead, Satan chooses to use the more general name “God.”  This is a subtle move on his part and it takes attention away from the personal relationship of God with Adam and Eve.  It puts God at more of a distance from them, and in so doing, it draws into question another side of God’s character.  Is he really personal?  Does he really live in fellowship with you?  Or isn’t it more the case that he’s far removed from you and doesn’t really care?  You see, already here Satan is setting the trap for what comes further in chapter 3.  He wants Eve to start thinking that God doesn’t have her interests at heart at all, that he’s only concerned about oppressing her, keeping her low and in the dark.

Adam was to be a Prince of creation.  Eve was to be the Princess standing at his side.  Together they were to rule over all the creatures as God’s vice-regents.  They had a royal calling from Yahweh in the Garden of Eden.  And now, one of the creatures over whom they’re supposed to rule, is calling into question the character of the King.  This snake was a lowly commoner trying to stir up rebellion against the High King of heaven and earth.  He’d come to introduce the idea of treason to Princess Eve.  She should have tossed him out of the Garden!  Or maybe as someone once quipped, instead of eating the fruit, she and Adam should have killed the snake and eaten it.  Satan certainly deserved that kind of response.

That was the kind of response that he received from the Messiah Prince.  Our Lord Jesus was confronted by the same temptations, not in a comfortable Garden, but in the howling wilderness – like the people of Israel who would have first read Genesis in the days of Moses.  They too questioned God’s character:  can he provide food and water in the wilderness?  Now in the Gospels we see Christ.  He is the True Israel of God.   He is the Second Adam.  And he was tempted to doubt the character of God too.  For instance, if God was so good, wouldn’t he send angels to catch Jesus if he threw himself off the pinnacle of the temple?  Why not put God to the test, see if his character really holds up?  Our Saviour, unlike his grandparents Adam and Eve in the garden, unlike Israel in the wilderness, he resisted.  He stood firm.  He did that for us.  He did that to qualify as our sinless Redeemer.  He did that to offer obedience in our place.  He did that so that he can sympathize with the temptations that we face in our lives.                           

Brothers and sisters, the devil still wants us to question and doubt God’s character.  Satan wants us to wonder about God’s goodness when we see evil in this world, whether it’s evil done to us or to others.  Satan also would have us wonder about God’s nearness and his personal relationship with us.  If he can’t get us to deny belief in deity altogether, he would be content to have us view God as distant, uncaring, and uninvolved in our lives.  You see, Satan doesn’t really care whether you become an atheist.  He’s happy to have you just see God as irrelevant in your life.  Satan would be quite happy for you to just live as if God isn’t there, as if there’s no connection between him and what you really believe, what you love, and what you do.  Loved ones, do not be deceived, Satan is pleased when our understanding of God places him in a box or reduces him to a concept, an intellectual idea, rather than seeing him and knowing him as a living Person.  Satan is happy for you to know about God, but not to really know him, to know him in a relationship of fellowship. 

However, brothers and sisters, the Word of God leads us in different direction.  The Bible tells us of a covenant God who relates personally to his people.  God is a he, not an it.   God is a Someone, not a something.  God is Someone who cares about his people.  God sends his Son into this world to be born, to live and die, to pay the debt owing, to bear the wrath deserved.  God’s love is personal and his salvation is personal.  All this the Word of God teaches us, and it’s this Word that we’re called again to believe and to find our comfort in.  We’re called to repent of all our misconstruals of God’s character and turn again in faith to our God and Saviour revealed in the Scriptures. 

Unfortunately, Satan also has as part of his strategy to pervert the Word of God.  We see that also in our text and it’s this aspect that usually gets the most attention.  “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Satan not only throws doubt on God’s words, he also introduces his own version, a perversion.  

What did God really say?  It’s in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 2.  God said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.”  Then he added, “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  Satan leaves the last part for now.  He misquotes the first part.  God said outright that any tree in the garden was fair game for food.  He made one exception, but the rest were available to Eve and Adam. 

The way Satan perverts the Word of God here is very crafty indeed.  The Hebrew is more ambiguous than our English translation can communicate.  Taken one way, Satan was suggesting that God had forbidden all the fruit of the garden as food.  Taken another way, Satan was suggesting that God had forbidden quite a bit of the fruit of the garden as food.  Either way, Satan was twisting God’s Word.  Judging from her reply in verse 2, Eve evidently understood it in the first sense.  Regardless, we need to see how tricky Satan is and how loose he will play with God’s Word.  Satan tries to turn the Bible against God. 

And again, the same strategy was employed by the devil against Jesus in the wilderness.  Satan tried to use the Bible to get Jesus to sin.  We can praise God that he resisted.  We benefit from that resistance.  But in those days there were also Jewish religious leaders who perverted the Word of God for their evil purposes.  There was a connection between them and Satan.  They had religion and they thought that they were privileged children of Abraham.  But in John 8, Jesus told them that they belonged to the devil:  “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire….When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The lies he tells include lies about the very Word of God.  Our Saviour warned us of this.

Today we can see so many perversions of God’s Word, perversions that belong to the father of lies.  Think of the way we hear some who claim to be Christians saying that the Bible doesn’t really have a problem with homosexuality, especially if it’s in the context of committed relationships.  Loved ones, that’s Scripture-twisting.  The Bible is clear that homosexuality in any form is contrary to nature and God’s design for humanity.  Read Romans 1 – it describes homosexuality as “contrary to nature.”  Or 1 Corinthians 6 – the Holy Spirit says that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God.  That’s what God says, that’s what we need to believe.  Be alert to Satanic Scripture-twisting!       

There are less obvious forms of Scripture-twisting too.  Think back to Rev. Geelkerken in the Netherlands and his view of our passage.  Today there are those who follow in his steps and even go further.  Most scientists say that snakes don’t talk, so obviously Genesis 3:1 is not trying to tell us that a snake talked to Eve.  Brothers and sisters, that’s Scripture-twisting too.  I don’t know how it worked that Satan could talk through a snake.  I can’t explain it, other than to say that he possessed this creature and took control of it.  As an angel, Satan seems to have these kinds of powers at his disposal.  God’s Word says it happened in a historical passage, therefore we’re obliged to accept it as history and learn from it.  As for explaining how Eve shows no surprise at seeing and hearing a talking snake, all we can do is speculate.  Perhaps the explanation is in the timing of this episode – that it happened very soon after her creation  and she didn’t have the time to understand what creatures could do and what they couldn’t do.  At any rate, this is no reason to reject what we read here as being a literal, historical account of the fall into sin.

What’s important for us is that we are aware that we have a sneaky enemy -- he’s sneakier than we can imagine.  2 Corinthians 11:14 warns us that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.”  He will deceive, he will hijack, he will cast doubt, he will pervert.  He has thousands of years of experience at it.  Brothers and sisters, this is why we must continue looking to Christ our Saviour in faith.  He is strong enough to keep us out of Satan’s clutches, from falling for his sneaky strategies.  But to receive that strength of our Saviour, we need to give careful attention to his Word.  The Word was the sword our Saviour used to defeat Satan in the wilderness. The Word is our Sword of the Spirit, according to what Paul writes in Ephesians 6.  So, loved ones, let me encourage you again to be faithful students of the Word, regularly studying the Scriptures so that you can be equipped for the spiritual warfare to which we’re called.  Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”  Loved ones, no one need fear that so long as we keep rooted in the Word of Christ and humbly place our trust in him alone.  AMEN.                                            

Prayer:

Father God,

You know better than we do about our vicious enemy, the devil.  We praise you that you have defeated him at the cross of Christ.  We thank you that through your Holy Spirit you’ve given us revelation about Satan and his strategies, to warn us and equip us.  Father, we pray that you’d more and more open our eyes so that we’re aware of his methods and the way he seeks to destroy us, the church and this whole creation.  Help us to stand firm against the doubts he seeks to plant.  Please help us to be good students of your Word, so that we can detect perversions.  Above all, Father, please keep us rooted in Christ with your Spirit and your Word.  We know that we can only have victory over Satan in our Saviour Jesus.  So again, we look to him in faith, trusting that you will hear us through him and because of him.                                    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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