Discerning True Vs. False Voices

Discerning True Vs. False Voices

One of the notable features in the opening chapters of Genesis is the importance of speech. As we’ve previously noted,[1] in the first chapter each time God speaks, whatever he speaks comes to pass[2] for God’s voice is a true voice. What is more, having formed his creation, he goes on to speak truly to his creation. After blessing the animal creation he tells it to be fruitful, increase in number, and fill the earth.[3] Similarly, after blessing his human creation he tells his male and female image-bearers, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” And he additionally tells them, “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” In his final communication with his image-bearers in chapter 1, God lets them know that he has provided for them and all of his creation saying, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”[4] Clearly God didn’t create and then leave his creatures to their own devices. From the beginning it’s evident that he intended to have a relationship with his creation as he communicated with it in a clear, true voice each step of the way.

As we’ve also noted,[5] in the second chapter of Genesis prior to making Eve,[6] the first time God spoke to the man he’d made, he did so more forcefully by way of commanding him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”[7] This, too, is a true voice for as we’ll continue to see, whatever God speaks always comes to pass. Then the focus of speech transitions from God to Adam as God brought “all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky” to him to name them “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”[8] The next time Adam spoke was after God made him a suitable helper in order that he might not be alone and so be able to fulfill the creation mandate from chapter 1 of filling and ruling the earth.[9] When God brought the woman to Adam, he again spoke saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”[10] By way of speech Adam images his Maker as he named the animals and acknowledged his companion, his female counterpart made equally in the image of God.

All of these instances of speech in the opening two chapters are positive, true, and good. However, the speech that begins the third chapter of Genesis stands in marked contrast. The chapter opens with a sense of foreboding as we’re told, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” With this opening we realize how selective God’s revelation to us in Scripture is for up until now, the key information we’ve been provided is that the entirety of the creation that God had made is “very good”[11] for it reflects its good Creator. The Scriptures affirm the heart of Genesis’ teaching, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[12] Hence we see the psalmist exclaiming, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”[13] Paul and Barnabas similarly affirmed this doctrine when, after they had healed a man who had been lame from birth, they said to the men in Lystra who took them for gods and brought them sacrifices,[14] “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”[15] And the apostle Paul affirmed this foundational truth yet again when he taught in his letter to the Colossians, “16 For in [the Son] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”[16] So, too, the apostle John affirmed when he said of Christ Jesus who is God, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”[17] Therefore, if in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth, the whole world and everything in it—whether visible or invisible; thrones or powers; rulers or authorities—and that without God, without Christ, nothing was made that was made, then this “nothing” would have to include not only the material world but also the spiritual.

Yet what’s been left out in all of the above is any statement concerning how it was that Satan, disguised as a serpent in the garden, came to be. In other words if, as we’ve noted, another foundational truth taught in Genesis is that everything God made was good, then how did evil angelic beings come to be? How did this crafty serpent come to be? Even if we turn to the Reformation principle of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, we’re provided but little light for as we look to the New Testament we find precious few clues as to how it is that Satan, whose name means “adversary,” came to be such an adversary of God. One of those clues comes from the book of Jude which states, “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these [the Lord] has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”[18] Similarly, another clue can be found in Peter’s second epistle which notes how “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.”[19] From these two brief verses we gather that at some point some of God’s angels sinned and that the way they sinned was by not keeping their positions of authority but abandoning their proper dwelling. For having sinned in such a manner, the God who made the heavens consigned them to hell; the God who is light and made light doomed them to darkness; the God who declared all of his creation “good,” sentenced them to everlasting chains for judgment.

As we return to Genesis 3 we can deduce that whenever this sinning rebellion of some of God’s angels took place, it occurred before the fall of humanity because as the chapter opens the serpent is already present. And as read for us earlier in the service, we see that the book of Revelation identifies this “ancient serpent” with the devil which means “accuser” or “slanderer,” and is also known as Satan, the adversary. [20] Verse 1 of Genesis 3 describes this serpent as being “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” Now to be crafty is to be “clever at achieving one’s aims by indirect or deceitful methods.” It would be difficult to find a more appropriate word to describe the serpent’s behavior.[21] And being one of the company of angels described by Jude “who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling,”[22] we see the serpent acting true to his lying and deceitful character as he sought to take God’s place by replacing the true voice and authority of God with his own false voice when he said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

In considering this account we should keep in mind that the only voice Eve had known prior to this encounter were the true voices of God and of Adam as the latter at some point relayed to her—for she had not yet been formed—what God had originally commanded him: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”[23] Therefore we have here Eve, whom God had placed along with Adam as ruler over his creation, being tempted by the false voice of one of the members of that creation encouraging her to question the truth of God and his Word. And having never experienced deceit; having never heard a false voice, she had no reason to be suspicious of the serpent for, again, all of the voices she had heard previous to this had been true voices. There would have been no reason for her to have felt a need to have her guard up. But we, with the advantage of 20-20 hindsight vision, can recognize how the serpent tempter began his temptation with an outright lie for God had not said that Adam must not eat from “any tree in the garden” but just the opposite. What God had told Adam was that he was free to eat of every tree but one, that of the knowledge of good and evil.

As noted beginning with verse 2, we see Eve correct the tempter’s lie in stating, “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.’” Eve correctly summarized the gist of God’s true voice. Yet perhaps it’s worth noting that God had commanded—not simply said—these things to Adam. Too, she neglected to identify that it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from which they were to abstain—recall that God had placed two trees in the middle, the other being the tree of life whose fruit they were allowed to eat.[24] Regarding Eve’s stating about the tree, “and you must not touch it,” we don’t know if God originally did say this and it wasn’t recorded; or if it was Adam who added this addition when he relayed God’s command to Eve; or if perhaps she alone or the two of them together determined that the best way to keep God’s prohibition concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to not even touch it. Regardless, the greater problem here was that Eve listened—and responded—to the serpent. The wise thing to do would have been to flee but, again, she would have had no cause to have been suspicious for she had never heard a false voice—until now.

And so the serpent sought to lure and deceive her further. As stated in verse 4, he challenged her response saying,  “You will not certainly die….” For a second time the serpent’s false voice questioned God’s true voice as he put into question God’s truthfulness. For God had warned that if Adam ate of it, he would certainly die.[25] God was speaking truthfully. But the serpent continued speaking deceitfully as he then sought to cause Eve to question God’s goodness by questioning God’s motives. As stated in verse 5, the serpent went on to say, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Isn’t it terrible of God to keep such knowledge away from her? Make no mistake: the serpent knew that if he could get Eve to disobey God’s true voice and listen to his own false voice by convincing her to partake of the forbidden fruit, he would succeed in murdering her for he knew that God always spoke truthfully; therefore he knew for a fact that if Eve partook of the fruit she would certainly die, just as God’s true voice had commanded and warned Adam. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus said of the devil, as read for us earlier, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”[26] By his lies, the serpent sought to teach Eve a new language, the language of deceit. Whereas previously she had known only the language of truth, now she was being lured by the native tongue of the serpent, the language of lies.

And part of this lie was that she, who was made in the image of God and therefore was already like God, could be even more so. Rather than simply serving God, she could become even more like him “knowing good and evil.” In essence she who had been created good, in the image and likeness of her good Creator, and had known only good was now being tempted to know what evil was like as well. She was being tempted to go from knowing the concept of evil to experiencing what evil felt like in practice. And this temptation began, as had occurred previously with Satan and other angels, with her “not keeping her position of authority.”[27] For she who, along with Adam, had been given authority by God to care for all of his creation, was now being tempted by a member of that creation to become like God herself. She was being tempted to not listen to and obey God’s true, good voice but instead listen to and obey the serpent’s false and evil voice. Instead of obeying her Creator, she ended up obeying a part of his creation.

This tragic outcome can be found in verse 6: “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.” Now it’s important to note that God had never said that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was good for food and pleasing to the eye, but just the opposite. Though as was the case with all the trees the LORD God made, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may well have been “pleasing to the eye,”[28] it was not “good for food” for, again, God had forbidden Adam from taking of it warning him that on the day he ate of it he would certainly die.[29] A fruit that can kill you is not a fruit that is “good for food.” Yet the enticing lie the serpent had told about this tree was that it would make Eve like God, “knowing good and evil.”

Needless to say, to know good and evil is not the same as gaining wisdom, as Eve suggested, for as we’ve noted many times, the Scriptural definition of wisdom is to fear the LORD. As the psalmist declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding….”[30] And the proverb adds, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools[31] despise wisdom and instruction.”[32] By partaking of the forbidden fruit, Eve demonstrated that she did not fear the LORD; she demonstrated that she did not believe him; she demonstrated that she did not feel bound to obey his command. Therefore by partaking of the forbidden fruit, Eve demonstrated that she was acting foolishly for she despised God’s true voice, his wisdom and instruction, and embraced the serpent’s false voice. In doing so she had acted in a morally deficient manner.

What is more, as stated at the end of verse 6, after Eve partook of the fruit, “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam, to whom God had directly given the prohibition, willingly received the fruit. He didn’t protest. He didn’t argue with Eve. He simply “ate it” when she offered it to him. Apparently he, too, found the prospect promised by the deceitful voice of the serpent of being like God, knowing good and evil, to be more desirable than accepting his proper position of authority as one who was made in the image of God. Adam and Eve who together had been made in the image and likeness of God had now, together, disobeyed the only restriction the God they imaged had placed upon them. Therefore, verse 7, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Whereas at the end of chapter 2 in Genesis it states, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame,”[33] now their nakedness was a source of mortification, of great embarrassment and shame, as they sought to cover themselves up. Death in all its forms had certainly entered human experience as the effects of the knowledge of evil had now been put in play and they who had previously been innocent before one another now felt shame in each other’s presence. They now experienced the death of innocence and the death of pure fellowship with each other they had previously known and so they sought to cover up their guilt and shame.

“Then,” verse 8, “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” The effects of death and the knowledge of evil further caused them to feel mortification, great embarrassment and shame, before their Maker as they hid from him—as if that could ever be even remotely possible. The entrance of death into their relationship and previously unhindered fellowship with their LORD had begun. Yet the LORD God who had made them in his image didn’t allow them to remain hidden but, verse 9, “called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” God called Adam to accountability. And Adam answered, verse 10, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And God responded, verse 11, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Having answered truthfully when asked by God why he had hidden, Adam answered truthfully a second time, verse 12, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Now I know it’s common—and I know I, too, have said in the past—that what we see here is Adam shifting blame from himself to the woman, as I’ve been pondering this chapter, I’m coming to see Adam and Eve’s responses differently. In the case of Adam, he has simply and accurately stated what did in fact occur. The woman God gave him had indeed given him some fruit from the tree and he had, indeed, eaten it. This is absolutely true. Adam owned the part he had played. He admitted he had indeed eaten of the fruit. He correctly described how events had transpired.

So, too, did Eve. As the LORD God turned to the other half of his image-bearers, verse 13, he “said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’” Again, Eve, too, answered truthfully in stating, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” There’s no shift in blame here. The serpent had indeed deceived her and she had, indeed, eaten of the fruit. The apostle Paul later acknowledged this deceit when he wrote Timothy saying, “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” [34] And he similarly wrote the church at Corinth telling them how “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning.”[35] So I no longer believe that Adam and Eve sought to blame others for their actions for both, when questioned by God, simply and accurately describe the events that transpired, including the fact that they ate of the fruit that had been offered. This would make sense for, again, up until this point, both of them had only known and listened to true voices. The serpent’s entrance presented them with something they had previously never encountered—a false voice. As verse 1 began with deception with the serpent who was “more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made,” by the end of this portion of the story we come to see that he was indeed clever and crafty for he had succeeded in achieving his aim of murdering God’s image-bearers by way of his false voice, by way of his lies and deceit, that turned God’s image-bearers, male and female, away from the true voice of their Maker and LORD.

Dear brothers and sisters, sadly you and I live in a world that bombards us with many false voices:

There are false voices that tell us that all religions lead to God;

There are false voices, as we noted a few months ago, that tell us that human views of what heaven is like are to be believed above what the Scriptures teach;

There are false voices from false teachers who form cults;

There are false voices that can easily be found on the internet—and television—and magazines—and newspapers.

None of this should surprise us for we, like Eve, are all susceptible to false voices; we, like Eve, want to believe that things are as we’d like them to be rather than as God’s true voice—by his prophets in the Old Testament; by his Son who came to earth; by his apostles in the New Testament—has taught. Yet we are called to listen to God’s true voice, not the false. We are to test the spirits to see if they are from God.[36] We must hold to the truth taught by Paul, “8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”[37] The truth that Christ is the only truth,[38] the only way to our Father in heaven, is the truth to which we must hold fast.

We must hold to the truth of the Word he’s left us for it is by his true Word that we will be able to discern what is false from what is true;

And it is by God’s Holy Spirit, whom he’s given to all who believe in and receive his Son, that we can be guided to recognize and follow the true voices over against the false;

And it is by prayer to our heavenly Father, who ever seeks to guide us to the truth of Jesus Christ, his Son, that we can learn to know and listen to and walk in his steps;[39]

For our heavenly Father calls us, his children, to help one another follow true, not false voices;

And he calls us to point those around us who may be following false voices to listen to the true.

He calls us to discern the true from the false for, as read for us earlier, that ancient serpent still seeks to murder and draw God’s image-bearers away from him. As Paul taught, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”[40] Therefore let us ever be those who seek, practice, and proclaim God’s true voice.

Let us pray.

[1] Sermon preached on January 5, 2020, God, Our Good Creator, on Genesis 1:1–2:3.

[2] Genesis 1:3: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.; 1:6–7:And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” …. And it was so.; 1:9: And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.; 1:11:  Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.; 1:14–15: 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.; 1:20: 20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”; 1:24: 24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.; 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

[3] Genesis 1:21–22: 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”

[4] Genesis 1:28–29.

[5] Sermon preached on January 12, 2020, Why Did God Create Us? On Genesis 1:26–2:25.

[6] Genesis 2:18: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.

[7] Genesis 2:16–17.

[8] Genesis 2:19.

[9] Genesis 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

[10] Genesis 2:23.

[11] Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

[12] Genesis 1:1.

[13] Psalm 90:2.

[14] Acts 14:8–13: 8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

[15] Acts 14:15.

[16] Colossians 1:16–17.

[17] John 1:3.

[18] Jude 1:6.

[19] 2 Peter 2:4.

[20] Revelation 20:2: “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” See also Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

[21] It is worth noting that though this interpretation is consistent with later Scripture, as noted in the footnote to Genesis 3:1 in the Crossway ESV Study Bible, “the Hebrew term ‘arum [translated as “crafty” or “cunning”] does not carry the  negative moral connotations of the English words ‘crafty’ and ‘cunning.’”

[22] Jude 1:6: And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

[23] Genesis 2:16–17.

[24] Genesis 2:9: The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

[25] Genesis 2:16–17: You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

[26] John 8:44–45.

[27] Jude 1:6: And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

[28] Genesis 2:9: The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

[29] Genesis 2:16–17: 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

[30] Psalm 111:10. See also Proverb 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.; Proverb 15:33: Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor.

[31] The Hebrew words rendered fool in Proverbs, and often elsewhere in the Old Testament, denote a person who is morally deficient.

[32] Proverb 1:7. See also Job 28:28: And he said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”

[33] Genesis 2:25.

[34] 1 Timothy 2:14.

[35] 2 Corinthians 11:3: But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

[36] 1 John 4:1: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

[37] Galatians 1:8–9.

[38] John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

[39] 1 Peter 2:21: To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

[40] 2 Corinthians 4:4.