Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Devil's Grammar Lesson

image 1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You can't eat from any tree in the garden'?"

2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, 'You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.' "

4 "No! You will not die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate [it] ; she also gave [some] to her husband, [who was] with her, and he ate [it] . 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

The title of my sermon this morning is "The Devil's Grammar Lesson." As I have already mentioned this morning's sermon is going to be a bit technical so if it feels more like a lecture than a sermon than forgive me. I do have a purpose in tackling this passage in this way though. You see our biggest barrier to personal holiness is sin. I believe that looking at the original sin that we can learn something about the nature of temptation and falling that we then can apply to our own lives and work on the sanctification (that is personal holiness) that God desires from his children.

This is of course the dialog between Eve and Satan in the garden of Eden. This conversation though only a few verses in length has had a profound affect on the whole of creation and the lives that we live today. At this point in the account of God's creation of the world we have seen that God has created everything and that it was good. Sometimes that word good seems so plain. I think that in the age of super, fantastic, perfect, outrageously fun, hot, excitement, wonderful, superb, blowout, greatest things competing for our attention and for the money in our pocketbook, we miss out on the good that God has to offer. Frankly God's goodness is incomparable to the wealth and wonderment that this world has to offer, and blessed are those that find it. So His creation was good. We also have seen that God has created a woman to be with man and that they have a perfect bond of love with no shame. Then enters the serpent into this land of God's goodness.

Here is an aside. Isn't interesting that the Devil and the angels that follow him seem to insert himself into our lives when we are experiencing God's goodness. Have you ever noticed that. The scriptures rightly call him a thief. He does in fact come to rob, kill, and destroy. His target is God's goodness.

So we have the devil enter this scene. I am going to use a word for word translation from Greek to aid in our discussion. Word for word translations are useful when looking at the grammar in Greek since English translations do not always capture the nuances of the original languages. The draw back of word for word translations is that they sound very choppy since we are not accustom to the grammatical structure of Greek.

The devil starts out by saying, "Indeed! that He Elohim said.." There was no formal introduction, no building up to the presentation. No chance to warm up. He right out of the gate begins his criticism of God's word. Indeed. "Af" in the original language. My interpretation would "Aw, Did God really say..." His criticism was not really from a place of understanding what God had said, but rather the intent was to call into question what God had said. We have this happening with regularity in our modern times. Every where we look we find people actively criticizing the Bible and what it says, not because they want to understand it better, but rather because they want to call it into question. There is a process of understanding the Bible called textual criticism which the primary goal is to challenge the text and press to see if the text is really saying what we think that it says. Don't get me wrong. I believe that we should wrestle with God's word until though His Holy Spirit we arrive at a deeper and more meaningful understanding, but when we call into question the things that are plainly understood in the Bible then it is not a new understanding, it is the old rebellion that was initiated by the devil himself.

He says next, "Not you shall eat from any tree in the Garden." I would like to compare this to what God said and note how the Devil works in distorting the word of God. Remember the power of Satan is not is some magnificent awesome forcefulness to inflict pain and suffering, but rather deception. Deception is the most powerful tool that the devil uses against people. What God really said was "From any tree in the garden to eat you shall eat." Notice that the serpent states God's provision in the negative. I believe that the serpent is trying to get Eve to look away from the generous provision that God has given. God said that from any tree to eat you shall eat. This double eat is a statement of abundance and blessing. God's goodness was an abundant blessing, but that is not what the serpent wanted Eve to focus on, so he starts out by saying God's provision in the negative. If she were facing some uncertain medical crisis he might say, "Surely God didn't say he would heal you?" If she were facing some finical crisis he would say, "Come on, God couldn't have said that he would give you abundant life." If a person was facing a relationship crisis he might say, "Surely God does not intend for you to love him?" The devil loves to state God's provisions and commandments in the negative. He causes Eve (and us when we buy into his lie) to question our own understanding of what God has said.

Notice Eve's response. "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we are eating." She nailed it. Her understanding of what God had provided was right on target. Notice she said "we are eating." This makes me believe that Adam is right there with her. Often times much is made of the woman being the first to sin, but Adam actually made the first mistake by not protecting his bride from this deceiver. Anyway, if she got it right then what happened? For starters she did not state the double provision that God had given them. That is to say she missed that God was not only fulfilling her need, but he was doing it abundantly. But her straying from what God has said goes further.

Notice what she says next, "but from the tree which in the midst of (literally center) the garden he said Elohim not you shall eat from it. Let's compare that to what God really said. "and the tree of the lives in the midst of (center) the garden." Notice how by introducing the thought of what God was withholding from her by stating his provision in the negative, how the devil has replaced the center of attention from the tree of life. God says that the tree of life is at the center of the garden and mention the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as being there. Eve now refers to to the tree of knowledge of good and evil as being the center of the garden and does not mention the tree of life.

How often we focus on the one thing that God has not given to us. We are unaware of the wonderful blessings that He has poured out in our lives and we choose instead to center our attention on the one thing we do not have, or that God has told us in not for us. Every tree was available and the tree of life was at the center, but now the center of her universe was the forbidden tree. Sad really to think about how much of our joy is robbed from us when we choose to focus on the forbidden. In short the devil's deception has worked. Eve is no longer has a clear understanding of what God has said; instead it has been replaced with a distorted understanding of who God is, namely He is withholding something from you.

Continuing on she says, "and not you shall touch it." No where did God say that Adam and Eve were not to touch this tree. Eve is adding on to what God said. You see adding on to what God has said can be as dangerous as taking away from what He has said. In some respects we see the roots of legalism in this statement. Legalism is a set of rules designed to keep a person from offending God by preventing unholy action. It sounds like a good idea at first, but the reality is that Legalism does not produce holiness. The only thing it accomplishes is a sense of self-reliance in that it creates a false belief that we through our actions independent of God can please Him.

Next she says "lest you shall die." When we compare what she is saying to what God has said we find the other mistake of taking away from God's word. God said "in the day of to eat of you it to die you shall die." The difference is subtle but it is very important. God states the certainty of death by saying "to die you shall die." Eve on the other hand state the likelihood or possibility of dying. I mentioned last week that we do not fear the God of the New Testament and that in fact God is the God of both Testaments. He has not changed. Like Eve I think we toy with the possibility of judgment rather than the certainty of it. Let me make this clear unless you repent of your sin you will face God's judgment! That is a certainty not a possibility. Parable?

Next the devil says, "Not to die you shall die." This is a direct contradiction of God's words. He goes on to say that if she eats of the fruit that her eyes will be opened. Open your eyes. This reminds me of the arguments that people give in protecting our children. You might hear things like, "You can't shelter them forever." or "That is old-fashioned." Don't get me wrong opening your eyes is a good thing, but what is it that you are allowing into your soul? Luke 11:24-36 says

34 Your eye is the lamp of the body. When your eye is good, your whole body is also full of light. But when it is bad, your body is also full of darkness. 35 Take care then, that the light in you is not darkness. 36 If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, the whole body will be full of light, as when a lamp shines its light on you."

That phase take care then that the light in you is not darkness. This tells me that there is false light. In this case there is false openness that leads to your whole body, your whole life being filled with darkness. The devil was not lying when he said your eyes will be opened, but he was deceiving her by making is sound like a good thing.

Satan goes on "that one knowing Elohim that in day of to eat of you from it and they are unclosed eyes of you and you become as Elohim ones knowing of good and evil." Interestingly the devil is not lying here technically, but he most certainly is deceiving. The serpent is hinting at omnipotence (that is knowing all things). They will become like God knowing all things. In fact what was the truth is that they were already made in the image of God. They were already like God. However they had not yet experienced evil.

The difficulty of this passage arises from the issue of God's sovereignty versus man's free will. God placed in us an ability to chose for ourselves moral right and moral wrong. It was not until Adam and Eve chose the moral wrong that a full understanding of good and evil really comes into awareness. Think about opposites for a moment. Let's say you are from a desert where it is always hot. If you only know hot and never experience cold then your awareness of cold being the opposite of hot is not full. You might know something of warm and hot. In this case warm would be your idea of cold.

Up to this point Adam and Eve only experienced good. God's creation was good, His provision was good, His fellowship was good, His word was good. There was only an understanding of good. That is to say an knowledge of good. By choosing that which God had prohibited using their free will they awaken a conscious awareness of evil that was not understood before. The possibility of evil existed in man's ability to chose something that God did not want them to have, but the awareness was not. Using the hot cold example; we have the ability to feel extreme cold, but until we experienced it then we do not have an awareness of cold. Interestingly this awakening aroused a moral sense of right and wrong that they instantly reacted to. The shame of evil can be quite profound.

I think that if we could have full awareness (and then not be distracted) of the consequences and destructive nature of sin before we acted I think that we would not choose it. Distracted by what? The belief that sin holds something better than what we already have in Christ, the belief that we are missing out on something when we choose not to sin, the desire for the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the desire to be great.

These last three are seen in the text. Back to the word for word translation it says "She is seeing, the woman that good the tree for food (lust of the flesh), and that yearning it to the eyes (desire of the eyes) and being coveted the tree to make intelligent of (Coveting greatness)." When we move beyond God's word, when we are unrestrained by His truth, When we cast off the desire of right living when we become a slave to lust of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and a coveting greatness. Eve had reached a point were her focus was no longer on God's provision, life, or His word, but rather on the forbidden, lust of the flesh, desire of the eyes, and coveting forbidden wisdom. Sin had a death grip on her and so she ate. I could continue on about the consequences of sin, but I do not need to. We live it every day. Sin is the most destructive force in our lives today.

So how can we apply this lesson to our lives today? First we must recognize the power of Sin rests squarely in the deception that God is not really good, nor does he have our best interests at heart. The reality is that God is abundantly good. Secondly there is a danger in adding to or taking away from God's word. I believe that the best prevention for this is regular and intentional Bible study. If you are not reading your Bible then start, if you are occasionally reading your Bible then make and effort to start reading it every day. If you are in the word everyday then continue with consistency. Understand the Word of God like prayer is essential to the Christian walk. Third, the tree of life (Christ) should be the center of our garden. True the forbidden fruit is available in our lives, but when the forbidden becomes our focus over Christ then we are more likely to fall into sin. On the other hand when Christ is the center of our life we are protected from sin. Forth, we need to have a healthy fear of and respect for God's judgment. We presume too much on His longsuffering. Fifth we need to be very careful what we allow into our lives especially through our eyes. God's word says, "Take care then that the light in you is not darkness." If we do not protect then our lives will be filled with darkness. Finally if we are waiting until it becomes and issue were we are fighting against the lust of the flesh, desires of the eyes or the coveting greatness, then we will lose to sin every time. If you are at the point of wrestling with desires this morning there is only one cure. Repent and turn fully and purposefully to Christ. If you have never given your life to Christ and are wrestling with the possibility then in a moment while I stand up front, come forward and I will share with you how you can enter into this relationship. If you need to commit to reading the Bible and Praying daily please do not wait another day start now. If you find yourself caught up in sin's grip, then please seek God.