Genesis Three (Pt.5): The Serpent’s Strategy of War
The serpent came into the story of Eden quite abruptly. From the tranquil setting of Adam and his wife enjoying the garden together (2:25), ignoring the chapter division, we read rather suddenly, “now the serpent…” It was not sudden on Satan’s part, however. Satan had a plan in coming to the garden, evil and destructive designs. He carried out and accomplished those designs with cunning and craft. The words cunning and crafty are good translations for the Hebrew word “arum.” The serpent, naturally a wise and shrewd creature, took on a new and negative subtlety when possessed by Satan.
Everything about Satan’s attack in the garden pointed to a well-devised plan—he had marked his target, and he waited for the optimal time. He had also devised a specific tactic (which we will see later) so that he would limit the potential for failure. Satan had covered all his bases.
Consider first, his target. It was not the animal kingdom. He did not attack the forests or the oceans. In other words, Satan’s attack on God’s creation was not a temper tantrum. He did not flail about in a reckless rage hitting at whatever came within reach. Eden was no random attack, it was a strategy of war. Satan had a target in mind, and that target was humanity, the apex of God’s creation. Did he know that if he could bring humanity down, then the whole of creation would fall with it? I think he did. Satan understood what God meant when he said Adam would die if he ate. He knew creation would groan under the weight of Adam’s sin. But in order to hit this target effectively, Satan must act quickly.
Notice then, Satan’s timing. If Satan’s target is humanity, he will have to hit at the opportune time. Today, he will often attack the parents through the children, as he did with Job. But in Genesis three Satan knew that he had no time to lose, he could not wait to attack our first parents through Cain or Abel or get them in their old age. He must strike humanity at the root. He must poison the fountain at the source. Satan’s target was not Adam but Adam’s children—humanity.
To understand what Satan was doing in the garden you must understand that humanity, unlike the angels, was made to multiply by procreation. The angels were created individually, and they sinned individually and independently of each other. If one angel sinned it did not directly affect another angel. Each angel sinned individually. Humanity, however, was created to fill the earth by reproduction. Humanity fell as one when Satan poisoned the source. The “likeness” and “image” of Adam’s offspring were marred by Adam’s sin. There is obviously tremendous theological significance here; we all died in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22), we were born in sin and conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). Cain was conceived in sin and he proved it.
Satan’s tactic also shows his cunning strategy of war. He addressed the women first. As a matter of fact, he did not even speak to Adam. The woman was more attractive to him as the one with the greater sensibility, she was more emotionally responsive, with more feeling and therefore more pliable. She is described by Peter as the weaker vessel. She is weaker, in part as the one more emotionally vulnerable. The weakness of the woman is betrayed in the Eden event. She should have recognized that there was something wrong with the created order when she heard a snake talking. Sin had overthrown the order of God’s creation and she was deceived by it.
Adam was incomplete without the woman, that emotional, sensitive side of humanity was created when Eve was formed. The element of humanity that would look at a talking snake and say “isn’t that cute” needed also the cold logic of Adam to say “isn’t that dangerous.” But Adam failed also. He listened to the conversation between his wife and Satan and made no attempt to intervene or to defend his wife, or to resist Satan. The lion attacked the weaker part of humanity, played on her emotions, he used sentiment against logic, desire against reason, pragmatism against faith.