We meet the serpent in the Garden of Eden where God says of him that he was more subtle than any beast of the field (Genesis 3:1). The scene opens with the serpent speaking with the woman. Since I was a little boy, I had always visualized Eve speaking with a snake. I wondered how a snake could speak, but I had no doubt that this story of our first parents was true. However, now I am an adult and as Paul said, I need to put away childish things (1Corinthians 13:11). Snakes don’t speak. They never have and never will unless God causes it to take place (Numbers 22:21-30)! If I agree that God’s word is always true, then my preconceptions may need to be adjusted to see its reality.
When our ears are dull of hearing and God wishes to reveal truth that is hard to understand, he will tell a story or a parable. He could then use various elements or animals etc. to indicate a deeper reality. Consider, for example, the parables of the sower or the wheat and tares, the mustard seed and the woman and the three measures of meal (Matthew chapter 13). Within these elements are revealed great mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Consider the symbols in Daniel and Revelation. Who would ever believe that those beasts mentioned therein actually talked and would one day rule the world? However, we, who believe that God’s word is true, would never seriously consider such a thing. We know that these figures symbolize other realities, difficult to put into words that would be understood and accepted. Yet, so many of us accept the truth of the serpent as a literal truth, knowing that elsewhere God uses like figures as symbols of a greater reality. For example, the Brazen Serpent that Moses made in the wilderness was a symbol of Christ. Though Christ never looked like a serpent or acted like one, he was numbered with the serpent (cf. Matthew 12:24). Who would say that this serpent that Moses made is not a symbol of Christ (cf. Numbers 21:4-9 with John 3:14-16; John 8:28; John 12:34)?
God knows how to preserve his word in the midst of a society that rejects and hates him (John 15:18, 24-25). At times, certain figures of his creation are made to personify particular qualities of the character of God or, contrarily, the character of evil. God does this so he may teach a deeper truth, as he did regarding wisdom in Proverbs chapter 8. I believe that this is what he did in Genesis chapter 3. In this Scripture God is unveiling a kind of negative wisdom. A cunning plan and subtle behavior are being described. It is a wisdom that wishes to remain hidden, like that of a hunter or a fisherman (cf. Genesis 10:8-9). The serpent’s qualities personify the character of another individual in the Garden with Eve. Notice what the serpent did. He spoke of a way to be like God, knowing good and evil (cf. Genesis 1:26, 28; 3:22-24). There was indeed a command given to be like God, but the WAY is Christ (John 14:6), symbolized by the Tree of Life (Genesis 2:9; cf. 1John 1:1-2) The sin was to try to become like God without partaking of the Tree of Life or Christ (Genesis 3:3). In other words, they attempted to fulfill the purpose of being created in the image of God through rebellion and experimentation (Genesis 3:6), rather than seeking God’s Way (Ephesians 4:13-15).
Man has endeavored to bring good out of evil ever since Eden. He tries to build a better life through war, government, education, science, art, sports, commerce etc., but always with inconsistent results. He has no authority over this tree of knowledge of good and evil. He never did. God does have authority over it and is able to bring good out of evil, making all things work together for our good. His Way of knowing God and becoming like God has always been through Jesus (John 14:6; Matthew 5:48; 19:21; John 17:23). The serpent’s way has always been opposed to Christ.
Wicked men are compared with serpents in Psalm 58:1-4. Their plans (v.2) are like the poison of the adder (v.4). In Psalm 140:1-5 it is said that their plans (v.5) are like the forked tongue of the adder (v.3). In Micah 7:14-17, the enemies of Israel are called serpents. Christ, himself, described the religious leaders who opposed him as serpents (Matthew 23:33).
The serpent in Eden is described as subtle (Genesis 3:1), and he beguiled Eve (2Corinthians 11:3; Genesis 3:13) by getting her to defend God (Genesis 3:1-3), who needs no defense. God is well able to care for himself. The serpent is subtle or cunning (H6175). He formed a cunning plan and “beguiled” Eve. God, however, is greater in power and wisdom (Exodus 4:3; 7:9-12), and his plan cannot be undermined by the tactics of an annoying gnat. Notice what James says in James 3:7-11.
James 3:7-11 KJV For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: (8) But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (9) Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. (10) Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. (11) Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
All kinds of beasts, including the serpent, can be tamed (v.7), but a man’s tongue is full of deadly poison (like a serpent, cf. v.8). James compared our tongues with a fountain that sends forth waters, both bitter and sweet. This is impossible. It must be one or the other. In Revelation 8:10-11, a star identified as wormwood (bitter), fell to the earth (cf. Revelation 12:7-12) causing water (people) to become bitter. Ultimately, Satan is the fountain from which we have all sprung. Man is unable to change himself. He is unable to bring good out of evil or to make the bitter taste sweet. Yet, God is able to make the bitter waters sweet (Exodus 15:22-25). He has authority over good and evil, bitter and sweet. He has a thorough understanding of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He created it and is not hindered in the least by its fruit.
The more we look into the Scriptures, the more we find that Satan is not almighty, not omnipresent, not anything like what we have heard from tradition. So who is Satan? The next study in this series, The Devil, Called Satan, Unveiled will unveil to the reader who I believe Satan really is in the Bible.