In the October, 1956, issue of The Differentiator there was a brief article entitled "Is Dust the Serpent's Food?" Since then it has been queried whether the Serpent was a real, physical animal, and it was suggested that the tempter of Eve was simply Satan himself. It has been denied altogether that any animal was present. The "Serpent" was merely a figure of speech which expresses some of the characteristics of Satan.
That there is a distinct connection between Satan and "the Dragon, the Serpent, the ancient one" is quite clear from Rev. 20:2. I suggest, however, that in Genesis 3 the Mischief-maker, Satan, entered into a real, physical Serpent, which at that time did not crawl along the ground as it does today, but was a very beautiful and attractive animal, which was able to talk.
According to Luke 22:3, we read, "Then entered Satan, into Judas." The same fact is recorded in John 13:27. There is a slight emphasis upon the word entered. Again, in Acts 5:3, we read, "Now Peter says, 'Ananias, wherefore does (the) Satan fill your heart—you to put a deception on the Holy Spirit?'"
That sin entered into the world (of humanity) through one human being we know (Rom. 5:12). Perhaps it might be too much to postulate that sin entered the earth through a Satan-filled Serpent, an animal.
Various arguments from the contexts in Genesis are cavailable to prove that the theory that the Serpent is merely a figurative name for Satan is very shallow and altogether illogical. For example, it has been claimed that the latter part of ch. 3:14, "upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" speak of the humiliation which Satan will yet suffer. But what of the former part of the same verse? "Cursed art thou above every beast (behemah) and above every animal of the field (chayath hasadeh)." In what way can this be called" figurative" language? Does it mean that Satan is cursed above all his angelic entourage? Is it not very apparent that today the whole Serpent family is under a most humiliating disadvantage or curse? In other words, why is the present physical Serpent so obviously connected with something which answers so closely to the scene which took place in the Garden thousands of years ago?
And what would be the point in Satan being cursed above all beasts and animals? Such a statement would not be logical. Are we to understand that Satan's natural habitat is tenanted by beasts and animals? Very literally, the Hebrew text says, "Cursed art thou from (i.e. away from, out from, or above) every beast, and from every living (animal) of the field." The Concordant Version puts it thus, " (most) cursed are you of every beast, and of all field life." The word "most" is here quite justified, because if the Serpent was cursed above all beasts and animals, it must have been the most cursed.
Plainly, the Serpent is related to these beasts and animals in some way. Perhaps verse 1 of ch. 3 will give help here. The Hebrew text says literally, "And the Serpent (emphatic) comes to be subtle (or, crafty) from (that is, away from, above, more than) every living (animal) of the field which Jehovah Elohim makes." The Greek text says the Serpent was most prudent of all the beasts, those on the earth. The Concordant Version here reads, " And the Serpent comes to be the craftiest of all field life." The New World Version reads, "Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field." However, it seems most unlikely that God created the animals or beasts in a wild state.
On the supposition that the Serpent really was Satan, what would be the sense, where would be the logic, did we read that Satan came to be, or proved to be, the wisest, or craftiest, or most prudent, of all beasts or animals? That Satan may be the craftiest of all fallen' angels is easy to believe. That the beasts and animals mentioned in Genesis 3 are not literal, but merely figures of something else, is very hard to believe.
The Serpent came to be, or turned out to be, the craftiest of all the living (animals) of the field. So it appears to have been an animal of the field, something which, man is never called. In ch. 3:14, it is cursed above not only the animals of the field, but above every beast (behemah). We must now seek the distinction between the beast and the animal. The beast includes the larger animals, especially cattle; it is differentiated from birds, reptiles and fish, and from other "animals of the field." Out of about 150 occurrences of this Hebrew word, over forty times we find the expressions "both man and beast," "upon man and beast," "without man and without beast," etc. These appear to be the two major groups on earth of living flesh.
The original form of the Nachash (serpent) may not have been reptilian. The Hebrew word means "copper," and the animal may originally have obtained from Adam this name on account of its fine colour. Verbally the word means divination.
When Jehovah, Elohim passes sentence on this Nachash, namely, that all the days of its life it would go upon its belly or trunk, it is inconceivable that this had always been the method by which it propelled itself. The Greek version says the Serpent was to proceed upon its "breast and belly." Punishment consisted of proceeding thus, and eating of dust or soil. (Compare ch. 3:17, where Adam was not told he would eat "ground," but that he would eat of it).
Joesphus (Antiquities of the Jews) says God deprived the Serpent of the use of its feet, and made him go rolling along, dragging himself upon the ground. The boa-constrictor possesses rudimentary legs.
Driver says the Serpent in Genesis is not to be identified with Satan, because the Old Testament does not mention Satan until the period of the Exile, and then in the Apocrypha (Wisdom 2:24, "through the devil's envy death entered into the world").
Other questions arise. The serpent's form is most unusual, and its habits have always attracted attention, being very different from those of other animals. Its whole being suggests something mysterious and supernatural. In all ages the serpent has been considered as an emblem of cunning craftiness. The Arabs think that there lurks in every serpent a jinn (spirit).
And what is the reason for the serpent being honoured everywhere in the idolatries of antiquity? Max Muller had to admit there was an Aryan serpent, a Semitic one, a Turanian one, and an African one.
Why should this single animal stand out beyond all others in creation and gather around it the reverence and fear of universal man?
If it was truly Satan that God sentenced in the Garden, if figuratively he was to "go upon his belly," or suffer thenceforth continuous and bitter humiliation, what about Job 1:6; 12; Mark 1:13; Luke 10:18; Rom. 16:20; 2. Cor. 11:14; 2. Thess. 2:9; Rev. 2:13? Do these texts bespeak a beaten and humiliated Satan?
Or if we consider him as being the Devil (diabolos), what of Matt. 4:1-11; Eph. 6:11; Heb. 2:14; 1. Peter 5:8? Have we any reason to conclude that the Adversary or Mischief-Maker is ;not still walking about as a roaring lion, seeking to swallow someone up, or that he was crushed under the feet of the saints as stated he would be, in Rom. 16 20? No roaring lion, so far as we know, crawls along on its belly in a state of utter humiliation. And if Satan himself can become transfigured into a messenger of light, this does not seem as though he suffered from humiliation. There is no reason whatever to think that Satan is not still the god of this age (2. Cor. 4:4). His time of humiliation is still to come. He could be no god of this age did he crawl along, figuratively, on his belly.
It has been stated that it would be an act of cruelty for God to sentence and punish the Serpent, if, all the time, the real culprit was Satan, speaking through the Serpent. But why so? How do we know that God did not punish Satan? Surely there was no need to do this in Eve's presence, especially as most probably she would not have understood. We must not assume that Eve was already acquainted with a superior angel of the name of Satan, who was among other things, a murderer.
What grounds were there for God passing sentence upon the animal? It was the wisest, most cunning, most crafty, of all the animals. The disciples were to be as wise as serpents, prepared for anything. The Serpent must have been a very knowing animal. Somehow or other, it must have yielded to the influence of Satan. If it was very knowing and crafty, probably it did know it was doing wrong in yielding to Satan. And after all is said, can you claim that the serpent of today is in any way upset or discontented because it is obliged to crawl along on its trunk?
Another theory would identify the Serpent, Satan, the Devil, and the Dragon, with the fleshly mind. Eve's own mind, we are informed, was "the Serpent." But in that case, Eve's mind would require to undergo torment for the ages of the ages (Rev. 20:10), though perhaps not necessarily continuously. Would the crushing of Satan under foot mean that certain believers should crush their evil carnal minds? When the Lord was tried by the Devil in the wilderness, who would dare to say that it was His own fleshly mind that was tormenting Him? How could the Lord fall down and worship His own fleshly mind (Matt. 4:9)? We are not told that Satan entered into the Lord.
Another point must be faced. Had Satan appeared visibly before Eve, either in angelic or human form, it is not likely that his appearance would be what we ordinarily term angelic or attractive. It is very likely, however, that the animal which later became the creeping serpent was attractive, and in no wise repulsive.
After the third of Genesis, the word for serpent is not used until ch. 49:17, where Israel prophesies concerning Dan, "And it shall come to be, Dan, a serpent upon a way." Of course this does not mean that Dan was a crawling serpent. The whole language of the chapter is deliberately picturesque, so much so, that even now much of it cannot be properly understood. In verse 9 we read, literally, "Lion-whelp Judah!" Here God's Spirit was clearly inspiring Israel to speak in enigmas. Perhaps if we examined into the adjectival meanings of the terms applied by Israel to his solis, we might find these terms more true to fact than to figures.
In conclusion, we should never take any statement in Scripture to be figurative, so long as it makes quite good sense literally, unless it is clearly intended to be picturesque or figurative. Let us remember too, that the various so called "generations" in Genesis are in reality historical, records, not fanciful tales.
A.T. Last updated 22.1.2006