5-2 The Serpent In Eden
Genesis 3:4-5: “And the serpent said unto the
woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye
eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods,
knowing good and evil”.
It is assumed that the serpent here is an angel that
had sinned, called “Satan”. Having been thrown out of
heaven for his sin, he came to earth and tempted Eve to sin.
1. The passage talks about “the serpent”. The words “satan” and
“devil” do not occur in the whole book of Genesis.
2. The serpent is never described as an angel.
3. Therefore it is not surprising that there is no reference in
Genesis to anyone being thrown out of heaven.
4. Sin brings death (Rom. 6:23). Angels cannot die (Lk. 20:35-36)
, therefore angels cannot sin. The reward of the righteous is to be
made equal to the angels to die no more (Lk. 20:35-36). If angels
can sin, then the righteous will also be able to sin and therefore
will have the possibility of dying, which means they will not really
have everlasting life.
5. The characters involved in the Genesis record of the fall of
man are: God, Adam, Eve and the serpent. Nobody else is mentioned.
There is no evidence that anything got inside the serpent to make it
do what it did. Paul says the serpent “beguiled Eve through his
(own) subtilty” (2 Cor.11:3). God told the serpent: “Because thou
hast done this...” (Gen.3:14). If “satan” used the serpent, why is
he not mentioned and why was he not also punished?
6. Adam blamed Eve for his sin: “She gave me of the tree” (Gen.
Eve blamed the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat”
The serpent did not blame the devil - he made no excuse.
7. If the idea of a talking animal is difficult to accept,
(a) a donkey was once made to speak and reason with a man
(Balaam); “The (normally) dumb ass speaking with a man’s voice
forbad the madness of the prophet” (2 Pet. 2:16). and
(b) The serpent was one of the most intelligent of all the
animals (Gen. 3:1). The curse upon it would have taken away the
ability it had to speak with Adam and Eve. But it was an animal.
8. God created the serpent (Gen. 3:1); another being called
“satan” did not turn into the serpent; if we believe this, we are
effectively saying that one person can enter the life of someone
else and control it. This is a pagan idea, not a Biblical one. Sin
entered the world from man (Rom. 5:12); the serpent was therefore
not a moral entity, it was speaking from its own natural
observations, and was not as such responsible to God and therefore
did not commit sin. The serpent was a beast of the field which God
had made (Gen 3:1). Yet out of the ground [Heb. adamah-
earth, soil] God formed all the beasts of the field, including the
serpent (Gen. 2:17). So the serpent was likewise created by God out
of the ground- it wasn't a pre-existing agent of evil. Note the
snake, as one of the beasts of the field, was "very good" (Gen.
1:31)- hardly how one would describe the serpent according to the
orthodox reasoning. The Torah doesn't speak of purely symbolic,
abstract concepts; there is always a literal reality, which may then
be interpreted in a symbolic way. The serpent, therefore, begs to be
understood in this context as just that- a serpent. The view has
been pushed that the serpent is to be read as a symbol of our human
or animal nature. This would mean that Eve's nature deceived Eve,
and such a separation between a person and their nature is
problematic to say the least. This view runs into huge difficulties-
for how could Eve's nature be punished in a way separate to her
punishment, in what way was her deceptive nature created by God like
the animals, and how just was Eve's personal judgment in this
case... and the questions go on, continuing to be begged the more we
think about it.
Some suggest that the serpent of Genesis 3 is related to the
seraphim. However, the normal Hebrew word for “serpent”, which is
used in Genesis 3, is totally unrelated to the word for “seraphim”.
The Hebrew word translated “seraphim” basically means a “fiery one”
and is translated “fiery serpent” in Numbers 21:8, but this is not
the word translated “serpent” in Genesis 3. The Hebrew word for
brass comes from the same root word for “serpent” in Genesis 3.
Brass represents sin (Jud. 16:21; 2 Sam. 3:24; 2 Kings. 25:7; 2
Chron. 33:11; 36:6), thus the serpent may be connected with the idea
of sin, but not a sinful angel.
9. Note that the enmity, the conflict, is between the woman and
the serpent, and their respective seed. The serpent is presented not
so much as the foe of God, but the enemy of mankind. The promise
that the seed of the woman would crush his head is echoed in the
words to Cain in regard to sin: "Its desire is for you, but you will
be able to master it" (Gen. 4:7). The snake is to be connected
symbolically with human sin, not any superhuman Satan figure.
10. Victor Hamilton, a conservative evangelical
writing in the popular New International Commentary on the Old
Testament, puts it well: “Regarding the serpent’s origin, we are
clearly told that he was an animal made by God. This information
immediately removes any possibility that the serpent is to be viewed
as some kind of supernatural, divine force. There is no room here
for any dualistic ideas about the origin of good and evil” (1).
the courtroom-like session when God arraigns Adam and Eve for their
sin and gives them and the serpent their judgments, the serpent gets
no opportunity to defend itself. It says nothing and offers no
repentance nor self-justification- because it has no moral
accountability. The serpent was a "beast of the field" and therefore
2. The following are further indications that the account of Adam
and Eve and the serpent’s temptation should be read literally:-
- Jesus referred to the record of Adam and Eve’s creation as the
basis of His teaching on marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:5-6); there
is no hint that He read it figuratively.
- “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived
(by the serpent), but the woman being deceived was in the
transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13-14) - so Paul, too, read Genesis
literally. And most importantly he wrote earlier about the way the
“serpent beguiled Even through his subtilty” (2 Cor. 11:3) - notice
that Paul doesn’t mention the “devil” beguiling Eve.
- In Digression 3 I
attempt to outline the original intention and context of Genesis 3-
to explain to the Israelites in the wilderness where the truth lay
in all the various myths about creation and 'Satan' figures which
they had encountered in the epics and myths of Egypt and the
Canaanite tribes. The record appears at pains to stress that the
account of the garden of Eden is intended to be understood
literally. Consider Gen. 2:11,12 about "The land of Havilah, where
there is [now] gold; and the gold of that land is good;
bdellium and onyx stones are [right now] there". Cassuto comments
about the record: "Its intention was to express a protest against
the mythological notions current among the people. Do not believe-
so it comes to tell us- that the Garden of Eden was a supernatural
garden, and that its trees bore precious stones or gold balls
instead of fruit that was good for food... yet was its fruit real
fruit, fruit good for human food. Bdellium, onyx and gold come to us
from one of the countries of our world, from the land of
Havilah" (2). The literality is indeed being emphasized, and I
therefore suggest that we likewise read the serpent as indeed a
"beast of the field" created by God- and nothing more.
3. Because the serpent was cursed with having to crawl on its
belly (Gen. 3:14), this may imply that previously it had legs;
coupled with its evident powers of reasoning, it was probably the
form of animal life closest to man, although it was still an animal
- another of the “beasts of the field which the Lord God had made”
(Gen. 3:1,14). It was cursed “above (“from among”, RVmg.) every
beast of the field” (Gen. 3:14), as if all the beasts were cursed
but especially the serpent.
4. Maybe the serpent had eaten of the tree of knowledge which
would explain his subtilty. Eve “saw that the tree was...a tree to
be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). How could she have seen
this unless she saw the result of eating the fruit in the life of
something that had already done so? It may well be that Eve had had
several conversations with the serpent before the one recorded in
Genesis 3. The first recorded words of the serpent to Eve are, “Yea,
hath God said...” (Gen. 3:1) - the word “Yea” possibly implying that
this was a continuation of a previous conversation that is not
5. I've shown elsewhere (3) that the entire Pentateuch is
alluding to the various myths and legends of creation and origins,
showing what the truth is. Moses was seeking to disabuse Israel of
all the myths they'd heard in Egypt, to deconstruct the wrong views
they'd grown up with- and so he wrote Genesis 1-3 to show the
understanding of origins which God wished His people to have. The
serpent had a major significance in the surrounding cultures. It was
seen as a representative of the gods, a kind of demon, a genie. But
the Genesis record is at pain to show that the serpent in Eden was
none of those things- it was one of the "beasts of the field". No
hidden identity is suggested for the serpent in Genesis. J.H. Walton
comments: "The Israelites [made no] attempt to associate it [the
serpent] with a being who was the ultimate source or cause of evil.
In fact, it would appear that the author of Genesis is intentionally
underplaying the role or identification of the serpent...In
Canaanite literature the role of chaos was played by the serpentine
Leviathan / Lotan. In contrast, the Biblical narrative states that
the great sea creatures were simply beasts God created (Gen. 1:21).
This demythologizing polemic may also be responsible for avoiding
any theory of conspirational uprisings for the existence of evil...
there is no hint in the OT that the serpent of Genesis 2-3 was
either identified as Satan or was thought to be inspired by Satan.
The earliest extant reference to any association is found in Wisdom
of Solomon 2:24 (first century BC)... the earliest reference to
Satan as the tempter through the serpent is in Apocalypse Of
Moses 16-19, contemporary to the NT... in the writings of the
church fathers, one of the earliest to associate the serpent with
Satan was Justin Martyr " (4). Even within Judaism, it is
accepted that the idea that the serpent was Satan is not in the text
itself, and arose only within later Rabbinic commentary: "The
interpretation... according to which the serpent is none other than
Satan... introduces into the text concepts that are foreign to it...
the primeval serpent is just a species of animal... it is beyond
doubt that the Bible refers to an ordinary, natural creature, for it
is distinctly stated here: Beyond any best of the field that the
Lord God had made" (5).
Why So Misunderstood?
Throughout the entire history of Jewish and Christian thought,
Genesis 1-3 has been the most studied passage, the verses most used
to justify theories, theologies, dogmas and behavioural demands.
There's simply a huge amount of material been written about these
chapters, and a colossal weight of dogma built upon them. The result
is that psychologically, most people approach these chapters with
assumptions and pre-existing ideas as to what's going on there. Here
more than anywhere else in the Bible, we run the danger of
eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than
exegesis, reading out of the text what God is
saying, rather than projecting our own preconceived ideas onto the
text and calling the process 'Biblical interpretation'. Augustine,
one of mainstream Christianity's greatest influencers, based much of
his teaching upon early Genesis. His whole teaching about sex, human
nature, Satan, temptation, salvation, judgment etc. all had its
basis in his understanding [or misunderstanding] of these chapters.
Within the Christian spectrum, evolutionists and creationists,
pro-life and otherwise, gay and straight... all seek justification
from these chapters.
So it's not surprising that many commentators have noted that
this passage is one of the most misused and misunderstood in the
whole Bible. But why? I'd suggest it's because humanity [and that
includes theologians and formulators of church doctrine] squirms
awkwardly under the glaring beam of the simple record of human
guilt. And therefore the serpent has been turned into a superhuman
being that gets all the blame; and human sin has been minimized, at
the expense of the plain meaning of the text. The whole structure of
the Biblical narrative is concerned with the guilt and sin of the
man and the woman; the snake isn't where the focus is. Von Rad, in
one of the 20th century's most seminal commentaries on Genesis,
understood this clearly: "In the narrator's mind, [the serpent] is
scarcely an embodiment of a 'demonic' power and certainly not of
Satan... the mention of the snake is almost secondary; in the
'temptation' by it the concern is with a completely unmythical
process, presented in such a way because the narrator is obviously
anxious to shift the problem as little as possible from man" (6).
The record keeps using personal pronouns to lay the blame squarely
with Adam: "I heard... I was afraid... I
was naked; I hid... I ate... I ate" (Gen.
3:10-13; and compare Jonah's similar confession of sin in Jonah
4:1-3- Jonah appears to allude to Adam here). Nobody reading the
Genesis record with an open mind would surely see anything else but
the blame being placed on humanity; as I have repeatedly stressed,
the words 'Satan', 'Lucifer' and the idea of the serpent as a fallen
Angel are simply not there in Genesis. They have to be 'read in'
from presuppositions, which ultimately have their root in pagan
myths. John Steinbeck, who was hardly a Biblical Christian, was
fascinated by the early chapters of Genesis, and his 1952 novel
East Of Eden is evidently his commentary upon them. And he
finds no place for a 'Satan' figure. Instead, he is struck by the
comment to Cain that although sin crouches at the door, "do thou
rule over him". Steinbeck concluded from this that victory over sin
and the effects of Adam's sin is possible; and therefore we're not
bound by some superhuman Satan figure, nor by an over-controlling
Divine predestination to sin and failure. There's a passage in
chapter 24 of the novel that bears quoting; I find it deeply
inspirational, and another example of the practical import of the
correct understanding of early Genesis: "It is easy out of laziness,
out of weakness, to throw oneself onto the lap of the deity, saying,
"I couldn't help it; the way was set". But think of the glory of the
choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice; a bee must make
honey. There's no godliness there... these verses are a history of
mankind in any age or culture or race... this is a ladder to climb
to the stars... it cuts the feet from under weakness and
cowardliness and laziness... because "thou mayest" rule over sin".
The practical inspiration ought to be evident; all further
commentary is bathos.
The Motive And Origin Of The Sin
What were the motives of Adam and Eve for sinning, for accepting
the serpent's suggestion? Considering this can help open a window
onto the question of the origin of Adam's sin. They were
attracted by the idea of "knowing good and evil". But this phrase is
elsewhere used in the Bible about how an adult 'knows good and
evil', but a child can't (Dt. 1:39; 2 Sam. 19:35; Is. 7:16). Adam
and Eve were immature; like children, they wished to 'grow up', they
resented the restraints which their immaturity required them to be
under; they wanted, just as children want, to be the all-knowing
adults / mature people whom they had seen the Elohim as. As children
long to escape from what they see as meaningless and onerous
restrictions, whilst having no idea what this would really mean in
practice and how un-free it would really be- so Adam and Eve were
attracted by the idea of having the knowledge of good and evil just
for the bite of the forbidden fruit. I find this a perfectly
understandable explanation of the motive for Adam and Eve's
sin. It seems a quite imaginable exercise of the freedom of choice
and behaviour which God had given them. There is no hint that 'Satan
made them do it', or that they were 'possessed' by some sinful
spirit. They did just what we so often do- misused, wrongly
exercised, their freewill and desired that which was inappropriate.
Simple as that. There's no need to bring in an external Satan figure
to explain what happened.
The Serpent And The Woman
In Gen. 3:15 we have the famous prophecy that the seed of the
woman would have conflict with the seed of the serpent. The woman's
son would mortally wound the snake by striking it on the head,
whereas the serpent would temporarily wound the woman's son by
'bruising' him in the heel. New Testament allusion suggests we are
to understand this as a prediction of the fight between the Lord
Jesus, as the seed of Eve, and the power of sin. The Lord Jesus was
temporarily wounded, dying for three days, but through this the
power of death, i.e. sin, was destroyed (Heb. 2:14). In our context,
it's noteworthy that the prophecy of Christ's crucifixion in Is.
53:10 underlines that it was God who 'bruised' Christ
there. Gen. 3:15 says it was the seed of the serpent who bruised
Christ. Conclusion: God worked through the seed of the serpent, God
was [and is] totally in control. The serpent is therefore not a
symbol of radical, free flying evil which is somehow outside of
God's control, and which 'bruised' God's Son whilst God was
powerless to stop His Son being bruised. Not at all. God was in
control, even of the seed of the serpent. However we finally wish to
interpret "the seed of the serpent", the simple fact is that God was
in powerful control of it / him.
Walter Brueggemann summarizes the situation: “The Old Testament
itself offers none of the material through which Satan emerges as
the popular figure of tempter and devil. The propensity of
Christians to reach such a role in Genesis 3 is to project backward
into the text from later texts” (7).
Adam as Everyman
Adam’s sin is indeed everyman’s. The account of
Adam and Eve’s sin is in essence the account of every sin and fall
into temptation, and is alluded to on nearly every page of the
Bible. God had told Adam to each in abundance from all
the trees of the garden (Gen. 2:16,17). Eve tells the serpent that
they can simply “eat” (she doesn’t mention ‘in abundance’) from “the
trees of the garden” (she doesn’t mention ‘from all of them’;
Gen. 3:2,3). If Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s blessings as He
intended, there would not have been such a pull into the temptation.
Appreciating the blessings God has given us, with regular prayers of
thankfulness throughout the day (meal times are a great opportunity
to remember to do this) will likewise lead us away from temptation;
minimizing His blessings propels us towards it. Each time we fail in
this, we are repeating Eve’s sin. Likewise we can discern a positive
focus by Eve upon the object of temptation; God had told Adam and
Eve to eat in abundance “from all trees of the garden” but not to
eat “from the tree of knowledge”. Eve repeats this to the serpent by
inserting the word ‘fruit’: “From the fruit of the trees of
the garden we may eat, but from the fruit of the tree that is
in the middle of the garden…”. Focusing on the forbidden fruit in
such detail is a sure way to ultimately succumb to the temptation.
Or again, the command to not eat of the tree was twisted by Eve into
saying that God had commanded that they were to not even touch
it. She put a fence around the law [or Adam did, in explaining it to
her]- and it had the opposite effect. Paul alludes to this by saying
that Jewish regulations such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not
touch… are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh”
(Col. 2:21-23). In all these things we find Adam to be everyman, to
be me, to be you, to be us.
There are many allusions to Adam in the book of
Job- Zophar in chapters 11 and 20 accuses Job of being as Adam, and
Job denies this by way of allusion and specifically at Job 31:33.
But then the whirlwind comes, and God speaks out of it to convict
Job that he is indeed as Adam. The translation of ruach hayom
in Gen. 3:8-11 as God walking “in the wind of the day” totally
misses the point- the idea is of a theophany of ruach, Spirit
wind, and Adam trying to hide and shelter among the trees from the
blast of the wind. And out of that wind, God speaks and convicts him
of his sin. This is what happened to Job as the wind approaches
throughout Elihu’s speeches, and then he is called to account and
recognition that he is as Adam. The description of Behemoth in Job
40:15 is relevant, for this is the term used for the “cattle” above
which the serpent was cursed (Gen. 3:14).
Verse Notes on Genesis 3
3:1 More subtle- The great temptation for Israel in their eretz was
Canaanite idolatry. Baal was seen as a god of wisdom; perhaps the
serpent spoke of all such idolatry, tempting Israel to ‘play God’,
to assume His wisdom, which is the essence of every temptation. As
there was a snake who was there in the 'land' of Eden, so there was
the equivalent amongst Israel- the false teachers, the tribes who
remained, etc., the "serpents of the dust" who would be the cause of
Israel's destruction (Dt. 32:24- an evident allusion to the language
of the snake in Eden).
Than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made- This
suggests the serpent was indeed an animal, created by God. The
serpent was cursed more than the other beasts of the field (:14);
the most superior animal was brought down beneath the others, by
having to crawl on its belly. Those who argue for a non-literal
serpent would presumably have to read this as meaning: 'The serpent
was more subtle than any of the animals God had made [although it
was not an animal]'. I suggest the more comfortable reading of
the text is: 'The serpent was one of the animals but was the most
subtle of them all'. The question of interpretation is hard to
resolve by appeal to the original Hebrew alone. The preceding
chapters 1 and 2 have stated that all things and all categories of
things exist because they were created by God. So the serpent was a
created being- in which category was it to be placed, if not as an
"animal of the field"? If we are intended to see the serpent as not
created by God, then surely that would be stated. The whole context
is about creation or bringing into being by God. The implication is
surely that the serpent was one of the animals God had made. We can
break down the text like this: The serpent [A] was more [B] than
[C]. The question is whether [A] is part of [C], i.e. was the
serpent [A] one of the 'animals of the field' [C]. The same kind of
Hebrew construction is found elsewhere. In each case, the idea would
be that [A] is part of and included within the category of [C]. Thus
Israel [A] were not more in number [B] than any other nation [C]
(Dt. 7:7). But Israel were a nation, included within the [C]
category. "I [A] am more foolish [B] than any man [C]" (Prov. 30:2).
The writer was a man, he was a member of the category [C]. Likewise
Is. 52:14 "His [Messiah's] [A] face was more marred [B] than any man
[C]". Messiah was a man, He was part of the category of [C], but He
had the most marred face. Ez. 15:2 might be the clearest: "What is
the vine tree [A] more than [B] any tree [C]?". The vine tree is a
tree, a member of the category [C]. And so the serpent [A] was more
subtle [B] than any animal of the field [C]. The serpent was part of
that category, it was an animal of the field made by God.
Sin entered the world by Adam, not by the serpent (Rom. 5:12). But see on
:14 eat dust. I have suggested that the 'creation' account in
Genesis 1 is a dramatic presentation explaining how eretz Israel
was prepared for habitation. I then developed the similarities
between that eretz and Eden. But Eden was a literal place;
and Adam and Eve are understood in later Scripture as literal
beings. And so I see no hint within the genre of Genesis 3 which
suggests that the serpent is to be read purely symbolically. If Gen.
1:2-2:4 is poetic or dramatic, then there must come some point at
which the genre changes- for the rest of Genesis is not in that
genre. I suggest that cut off point is at 2:4. The natural must come
before the spiritual and allegorical interpretation of it. Just as
Adam represented Israel, and his exile Eastward from the eretz looked
ahead to Judah's exile to Babylon, so the creature known as the
serpent represented that within the eretz which
caused God's people to sin and be expelled from it. Just as Eden,
Adam and Eve were literal, so was the "serpent". But as they each
represented things, so the serpent did too. The besetting temptation
of Israel was the cult of idols, Baal in particular, and this was
represented by the creature known as "the serpent". Just as the
serpent "deceived" Eve (:13), so the same word is used of how false
teachers deceived Israel into idol worship (Jer. 29:8). The Hebrew
for "serpent" has a wide range of associations, most of them
connected with false worship. Just as Adam and Eve should have not
meddled with the serpent and instead brought it under their
dominion, likewise Israel were warned not to meddle with those who
'serpent' (AV "use enchantment", the verb form of the noun for
"serpent"; Lev. 19:26; Dt. 18:10). The literal animal known as the
serpent, which differed, I suggest, from snakes of today,
represented various things- not least, the temptations which led to
Israel, God's specially created people, being exiled from the eretz.
It represents other things too. But this is not to say that "the
serpent" is merely symbolic. To say this runs the risk of a serious
[and common] error in reasoning, whereby something abstract is made
symbolic of something else. 'Love', e.g., an abstract concept,
cannot be symbolic of e.g. grace. So a symbolic entity, e.g. "the
serpent", could not be itself symbolic of something else, e.g. sin
or temptation. Literal things can represent abstract things or point
forward to other things- the blood of the Mosaic sacrifices
symbolized the atoning work of the Lord; the High Priest symbolized
the Lord; the manna symbolized the word of God; the waters of the
exodus symbolized the water of baptism, etc. But the symbolism
functions because a literal thing or entity is used to represent
something more abstract. If Adam, Eve and Eden were literal, and the
creation or placement of animals and plants in Eden was literal,
then it would seem gapingly inappropriate for a symbolic non literal
"serpent" to appear in the record.
Many of the creation myths feature some kind of serpent, but always as
some entity far more than a literal animal. The myths tend to
present the serpent as a dragon figure, similar in appearance to the
Biblical cherubim. Some cherubim-like figures uncovered in Egypt are
in fact winged cobras (1). But the Genesis record clearly
differentiates between the serpent and the cherubim. "Serpents
figure in various Ancient Near Eastern myths in a demonic way" (2).
The Sumerian god Ningishzida [meaning 'Lord of the tree'] was
portrayed as a serpent (3). But the Genesis record is insistent that
the truth is different, and that for the Bible believer, the serpent
was an animal, not a god, not a cosmic dragon nor a demon, but a
literal "beast of the field" created by the one God just as all the
other animals were created.
(1) Bernard F. Batto, Slaying the Dragon, Mythmaking in the Biblical
Tradition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster / John Knox Press,
1992) p. 60.
(2) J. R. Porter, The Illustrated Guide to
the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 29.
(3) John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews & Mark W. Chavalas, The
IVP Bible Background Commentary To The Old Testament (Downers
Gove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000) p. 32.
3:7 They knew that they were naked- Adam and Eve were “made naked”
in the sense that they now realized their nakedness. The idea is
alluded to in Ex. 32:25 and Mic. 1:11, where we read that Israel
were “made naked to their shame” by their idolatry. Again we see
Adam’s sin as being presented as Israel’s sin; the punishment of
being cast out of the eretz precisely
matches that of Israel, who were cast out from the same geographical
3:14 Eat dust- It's tempting to think that there must be a
connection between the serpent and snakes we see today. But snakes
do not eat dust; and in any case, there are many varieties of snake.
Yet Genesis 3 speaks of a specific creature. My suggestion therefore
is that the serpent was a literal animal, on legs, which could
speak, or was given the power of speech. Its punishment was to crawl
on its belly and eat dust. It's hard to describe snakes as
'crawling'; and they don't eat dust. The serpent was part of the
environment required to bring about the testing of Adam and Eve. But
its punishment was to crawl and eat dust- and then, this creature
died. That is why we continue to read of the man and woman in the
record, but nothing more is said about the creature known as the
serpent. It died and was never any more, foretelling how the final
conflict with the serpent's "seed" or spiritual descendant would
likewise end in total and permanent destruction. In the description
of Eden restored in Isaiah 65, we encounter the cryptic comment:
"And dust shall be the serpent's food" (Is. 65:25), as if to say
that although Eden will be restored, the judgment upon the serpent
was permanent, and there will be no serpent in the restored Eden. It
did not reproduce, in contrast to the curse on the woman, which
allowed for reproduction. The comment that he was to eat dust "all
the days of your life" could suggest that this creature would eat
dust and then die- and never reproduce. The "seed" of the serpent
refers to those having the characteristics of the historical
I have argued that whilst the serpent in Eden was a literal serpent,
it represents the conflict within the
eretz between God's people
and sin / temptation / idol worship etc. Ez. 25:15 and 35:5 use the
same word to speak of "the old enmity" between Israel and the other
inhabitants of the land. This old enmity continues to this day. The
'oldness' of it refers surely to the enmity in Eden, between the
serpent and the children of God.
Her offspring- Most usages of zera, “offspring” or “seed”, when referring to a
singular individual, refer to an immediate offspring rather than to
some far off descendant. Perhaps the promise of salvation could have
potentially been fulfilled in a son of Eve, but this didn’t happen,
the required conditions weren’t met [whatever they were], and so the
fulfilment of the promise was deferred until the Lord Jesus. This
kind of promise and then deferment and reapplication of fulfilment
is common in the Bible’s prophecies.
There's something of a wager here. Either the man kills the snake by
hitting it on the head, or the snake will bite the man’s heel. He
has to kill it outright, first time. See article "David and Goliath"
in 1 Sam. 17.
3:24 Cherubs at
the east of the garden of Eden- Just as Adam and Eve were exiled to the East, so Judah fled East of
Jerusalem (Jer. 52:12-16) and then further East, to Babylon. Babylon
[which is Babel] was built by men travelling East from Eden (Gen.
11:2). Again we see an identity between Eden and the land of Israel.
The visions of the cherubim and living creatures all seem to have Angelic
associations. One of the clearest is that the cherubim were to keep
"the way" to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), whereas the keeping of
the way is later said to be in the control of Angels- e. g. in Gen.
18:19 the Angels decide Abraham will keep "the way of the Lord",
implying they were the ones guarding it; and in Ex. 32:8 the Angel
talking with Moses on Sinai comments "They have turned aside quickly
out of the way which I commanded them" (see too Dt. 9:10,12).
(1) Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) p. 188.
(2) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies
(Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975) Vol. 2 p. 107.
(3) See Digression 3 The Intention And Context Of Genesis 1-3.
(4) J.H. Walton, 'Serpent', in T.D. Alexander and D.W. Baker, eds,
Dictionary Of The Old Testament And Pentateuch (Leicester:
I.V.P., 2003) pp. 737/8.
(5) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis
(Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1998 ed.) Vol. 1, pp. 139,140.
(6) Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (London: S.C.M., 1966) p.
(7) Walter Brueggemann,
Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament
Themes (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 188.