The dialogue between the serpent and the woman (cont)
And now the serpent comes clean. He does know what God said, or so he indicates. Whereas the woman does not refer to the certainty of death that follows the partaking of the fruit, the serpent, does not hesitate to make that connection, though it is a denial of the connection. “It will not be the case that dying you will die.” That is “You will not surely die.” Walton (pp. 204, 205) argues that syntactically the serpent does not “deny the precise penalty as God worded it.” To deny what God had said, would require, in the Hebrew, placing the negative particle between “dying” and “you will die”, Rather it denies the woman’s version of what God had said, her version being, “or you will die.” The serpent does this by placing the negative particle before the two verb forms, his denial amounting to saying, “You claim you will die, but I claim that while it could occur, it will not be inevitable.”
But there has to be a sugar coating to the bitter pill she is being tempted to swallow together with a suggestion of her inferiority and her need to rectify this. “Partake of this fruit and your eyes will be opened – as it is, you do not see clearly, your understanding is unfortunately limited – but then you will be like God.” She is promised a transition that moves from human ignorance to God-like knowledge. Though she chooses not to speak the name of the tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent shows no hesitation. “Of course if you eat of the fruit of that tree you will gain knowledge. You will gain discernment.” Oh the lie that hides behind the truth. She is given no idea of what that discernment will amount to. And see how the serpent pictures God as one who jealously guards his own knowledge and only forbids the partaking of the fruit because he does not want the woman (and the man) to become like him. The image being created is one where indeed God is the one who provides both the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – they are there together in the middle of the garden – but he has set limits to his blessings for this woman and this man and would seem powerless to prevent the woman and the man from acquiring knowledge like his knowledge.
This portrayal of God is completely at odds with what we have already learnt of him. He provides a helper who is a “counter partner” for the man. By implication, the man is a “counter partner” for the woman. The man and the woman are in a luxurious garden. Animals and birds inhabit its grounds and there is no tension between their existence and that of the man and the woman. They are given a tree of life, the fruit of which will give them ongoing life. They could eat of any tree bar one. It is in the middle of the garden along with the tree of life. It is as though they are being reminded of the possibility of choice and outcomes at the one place in the garden – life or death – a bountiful gift and a commandment to be obeyed (but see an alternative or at least an additional suggestion later). Simply trust this good God. Even if we did not know what followed, we the hearer or the reader should be anxious to have the woman protest. Why does she not protest? She has not yet partaken of the fruit but offering no objection to what the serpent has said she is well on the way to doing so.