The First Temptation
J. R. Miller
The story of the first temptation is intensely interesting. We do not need to perplex ourselves with its form. There is enough in it that is plain and simple and of practical value, and we should not let our minds be confused by its mystery. Whatever the broader meaning of this first temptation may have been, everyone must meet a like personal experience, and hence this Genesis story has for us a most vital interest.
Everyone must be tempted. Untried life is not yet established. We must be tested and proved. It is the man who endures temptation, who is blessed. Our first parents did not endure.
It was in the garden of Eden, with beauty and happiness on every side. But even into this lovely home, came the tempter! He came stealthily. The serpent is a remarkable illustration of temptation: subtle, fascinating, approaching noiselessly and with an appearance of harmlessness which throws us off our guard.
The tempter began his temptation in a way which gave no alarm to the woman. He asked her, "Has God said—You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" The question indicated surprise that God should make such a prohibition. The tempter's wish was, in a quiet and insinuating way, to impeach the goodness of God and make Eve think of Him as severe and harsh. His purpose was to put doubt of God's goodness into the woman's mind. "If God loved you—would He deny you anything so good?"
The tempter still practices the same deep cunning. He wants to make people think that God is severe, that His restraints are unreasonable. He tries to make the young man think that his father is too stern with him; the young girl that her mother is too rigid. He seeks to get people to think themselves oppressed by the Divine requirements. That is usually the first step in temptation, and when one has begun to think of God as too exacting, he is ready for the next downward step.
Everything depends upon the way a person meets temptation. Parleying is always unsafe. Eve's first mistake was in answering the tempter at all. She ought to have turned instantly away, refusing to listen. When there comes to us a wrong suggestion of any kind, the only wise and safe thing for us—is immediately to shut the door of our heart in its face. To dally is usually to be lost. Our decision should be instant and absolute, when temptation offers. The poet gave a fine test of character when he said he would not take for a friend, the man who needlessly sets his foot upon a worm. With still greater positiveness should we refuse to accept as a friend, one who seeks to throw doubt on God's goodness and love.
When the tempter finds a ready ear for his first approach—he is encouraged to go on. In this case, having raised suspicion of the Divine goodness, he went on to question God's veracity. "The serpent said unto the woman—You shall not surely die!" He would not have said this at the first, for the woman would not have listened then to such an accusation against God. But one doubt makes way for another. She listened now, and was not shocked when the tempter went farther and charged God with insincerity.
The tempter still follows the same course with those he would draw away from God. He tells them that what God says about the consequences of disobedience is not true. He tries to make people believe that the soul that sins—shall not die. He is still going about casting doubt upon God's words and suggesting changes in the reading of the Bible. He even tried to tempt our Savior by misquoting and perverting Scripture! He sought to get Him to trust a Divine promise—when He had no Divine command to do the thing suggested. We need to be sure of the character of the people we admit into our lives as friends, advisers, or teachers. Jesus tells us that His sheep know His voice. They know the voice of strangers, too, and will not listen to them, because they will not trust the words of strangers.
The tempter now goes a step farther with the woman. "God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil." Instead of dying, as God had said they should, if they ate the forbidden fruit—the devil said the eating of this fruit would open their eyes and make them wondrously wise, even something like God Himself!
The tempter talks in just the same way in these modern days. He tells the boys and young men, that doing certain things will make them smart and happy. He taunts them also with the ignorance of simple innocence, and suggests to them that they ought to see and experience the world. It will make men of them and give them power, influence and happiness. There is a great deal of this sort of temptation. A good many people cannot stand the taunt of being 'religious' or of being afraid to do certain things.
The temptation was successful. "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it." She listened to the cunning words of the tempter. Curiosity, ambition, and desire—all awoke in her. The one prohibited thing in the garden, began to shine in such alluring colors that she forgot all the good things which were permitted to her. It all seemed dull and poor, compared with the imagined sweetness of the fruit they were not allowed to eat. The commandment of God faded out of her mind—as she stood listening to the tempter and looking at the forbidden fruit before her. Then, fatal moment! She reached out her hand and took the fruit—and the doleful deed was done! We never know what a floodgate of evil and sorrow—one little thought or word or act may open—what a river of harm and ruin may flow from it!
When one has yielded to temptation, the next step ofttimes is the tempting of others. "She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it!" Milton suggests that it was because of his love for Eve that Adam accepted the fruit from her hand. Since she had fallen, he wished to perish with her. Whatever the reason was for Adam's yielding, we know that the common story is—the tempted and fallen—become tempters of others! The corrupted become corrupters of others. One of the blessings of companionship should be mutual help. Mountain climbers tie themselves together with ropes that the one may support the other. But sometimes one slips and drags the other with him down to death. Companionship may bring ruin, instead of blessing!
However pleasant sin may be, when it has been committed, a dark shadow falls over the soul. "The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees." The first thing after sinning is remorse, and then comes the desire to hide from God!
There is a story of a young man who entered the house of one who had been his friend, to steal costly jewels which he knew to be in a certain place. He made his way quietly into the room, found the trunk in which the jewels were kept, and opened it. Then glancing up he saw a portrait hanging on the wall—the face of one he had known in years gone, in this house—but who was now dead. The calm, deep eyes of his old companion looking down upon him, witnessing his dark deed, made him tremble. He tried to keep his back to the picture—but he could not hold his gaze away from it. Yet he could not go on with his robbery. The steady looking of the eyes down upon him, maddened him. At length he took a knife and cut the eyes from the portrait and then finished his crime. If even human eyes looking down upon us make it impossible for us to commit sins—how much more terrible is the eye of God to the guilty soul!
But it is impossible ever to get away from the presence of God. While the man and his wife were thus trying to hide, they heard God's voice saying, "Where are you?" It was not in anger but in love, that the Father thus followed His erring children. He sought them—that He might save them. It is ever so. God is not to be dreaded—even if we have done wrong. We never should flee from Him. He follows us—but it is that He may find us and save us. Conscience is not an enemy, but a friend—the voice of God speaking in love. People sometimes wish they could get away altogether from God, could silence His voice; but if this were possible, it would be unto the darkness of hopeless ruin!
It is pitiful to read in the narrative how, when asked regarding their sin, the man sought to put the blame on the woman. "The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." That is the way ofttimes—when a man has done wrong, he blames somebody else. A drunkard said it was his wife's fault, for she was not sociable at home and he went out evenings to find somebody to talk with. A young man fell into sin—and said it was the fault of his companion who had tempted him. No doubt a share of guilt lies on the tempter of innocence and inexperience. It is a fearful thing to influence another to do wrong. Yet temptation does not excuse sin. We should learn that no sin of others in tempting us—will ever excuse our sin in yielding. No one can compel us to do wrong. Our sin is always our own!
At once upon the dark cloud—breaks the light! No sooner had man fallen, than God's thought of redemption appears. "So the LORD God said to the serpent—I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." This fifteenth verse is the gospel, the first promise of a Savior. It is very dim and indistinct, a mere glimmering of light, on the edge of the darkness. But it was a gospel of hope to our first parents, in their sorrow and shame. We understand now its full meaning. It is a star-word as it shines here. A star is but a dim point of light as we see it in the heavens—but we understand that it is really a vast world, or center of a system of worlds. This promise holds in obscure dimness—all the glory of all the after-revealings of the Messiah. As we read on in the Old Testament, we continually find new unfoldings, fuller revelations, until at length we have the promise fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ!
This story of the first temptation and fall, is not the record of one isolated failure at the beginning of the world's history merely—it is a record which may be written into every human biography. It tells us of the fearful danger of sin, and then of sin's dreadful cost. What a joy it is that on the edge of this story of falling—we have the promise of one who would overcome! Now we have the story of one who has overcome, "strong Son of God," who also was tempted—but who did not yield, and now is the Mighty Deliverer. He overcame the world. And in Him we have peace and salvation!