A mother asked her daughter, "What did you learn?," expecting some overly-simplified response relating to the need to obey God's commands. That was the mother's point of telling the story, after all.
The daughter enthusiastically replied, "Don't talk to snakes!"
I cannot think of a better lesson to extrapolate from these verses, but I wanted to build on the idea for the purposes of organizing my new thoughts on the matter.
We are immediately drawn into Eve's conversation with the enemy at the beginning of this chapter:
(NIV) Gen. 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 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 responds to the enemy by quoting God's word, a common response even today. One thing bothers me about this passage: Engaging a conversation with a talking snake would not be my first reaction. My first response would be, "You can talk?!" John Wesley, never missing anything, ponders the possibility that snakes were known for talking and reasoning in this age. Given Eve's response without any further context, I suppose this is one possible conclusion, although I think it's a difficult leap to draw such a thing.
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 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.
Here is the obvious conclusion of anyone who allows the enemy space to reason with us. First, the enemy is not telling a lie in the sense that the fruit of that tree won't do what he says it will. His reasoning is solid. Second, Eve gave up her righteous knowledge for worldly knowledge. Her righteous knowledge was a blessing because she was allowed a direct communion with God. Her worldly knowledge came at great cost, the price she paid was misery.
The rest of the story is familiar -- Adam, as sinful and carnal as Eve, jumped right in without any text suggesting he was conned. I think this is important. Perhaps this is a case of the Bible being silent. I suggest it is closer to reality, because I know of too many husbands (and wives) that trust their spouses so much as to lose sight of God's truth. A simple suggestion or offering and they are off the advisable path. They are cast out and the burden of their sin lives with all of us until God returns in final judgement.
On strictly theological terms, this event was providential. This event had to happen for the real purpose of both God and man on this earth to unfold. Any Christian theology is incomplete without this understanding.
On a more basic level, I think the young girl's understanding is best. If you want to remain in God's favor, don't talk to snakes. If we do not give the enemy an ear, if we do not engage the enemy, it becomes much more of a task for us to be tempted and swayed from righteousness. Of course, we are perfectly capable of doing it on our own, but at least we've removed one unneccesary ingredient for the fall.
When I think about this, I think about all the times I stewed in temptation. Sometimes I walked away and sometimes I gave in. But the first sin, whether I acted in the flesh or not, was that moment -- however long -- I let the enemy engage me with his reason. Justifications are offered. Liberties are considered.
In the end, I know what fleshly sin is. I'm becoming more and more aware of what sins of the heart are, though, and that is what this passage is speaking to me today. Before the flesh acts, the heart gives the enemy a voice and the mind engages his reason.