Genesis 3:1 (ESV) — 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
Enter the “serpent”.
- A creature of God’s good creation.
- A creature created “crafty”.
- How does a good creation include a “crafty” creature?
- A creature that could apparently speak.
- The serpent said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1.
- How did the serpent have any idea what God said?
- Was the crafty serpent present when God said to Adam, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”(Gen. 2:17)?
Genesis 3:2 (ESV) — 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,
Eve points out that the serpent has it all wrong.
- She tells the serpent that in fact she can eat the “fruit of the trees in the garden”.
- Strangely, the text gives no indication that Eve was freaked out by a talking serpent.
- Is this an indication of her familiarity with the serpent?
Genesis 3:3 (ESV) — 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
Eve then repeats what God said.
- “‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
- How did she know this?
- When God gave this command to Adam she was not “alive”.
- Perhaps she learned this from Adam.
Genesis 3:4–5 (ESV) — 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 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.”
With the serpent’s response to Eve, we see that its motives are less than pure.
- The serpent directly contradicts the words of its Creator.
- God said “you shall surely die”
- The serpent said, “You will not surely die”.
Then, claiming to know the mind of its Creator, the serpent says…
- “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
- With these words the serpent suggests that God has ulterior motives.
- “God doesn’t want you to eat of this tree because you will be like Him”.
- “So not only will you not die”, the serpent claims.
- But you will also “be like God” having access to His wisdom.
Genesis 3:6 (ESV) — 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Having heard the serpent’s argument concerning the fruit, Eve proceeds to use her creaturely discernment, to arrive at three conclusions.
- (1) The tree’s fruit would be good food.
- (2) The tree’s fruit was beautiful, perhaps more so than the other fruit of the garden.
- (3) The tree’s fruit was desirable because it could “make one wise”.
And almost as an afterthought, we are told…
- Adam “her husband” was “with her”.
- And he – who was to guard the tabernacle as part of his sacred service – “ate” the fruit with Eve.
- Apparently he was there for this entire temptation scene.
- He did nothing.
Genesis 3:7 (ESV) — 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
The repercussions of their failing the test and succumbing to temptation are immediate.
- Their eyes were “opened”.
- They “knew” that they were naked.
- Their attempt to address their new status consisted of “fig leaves” and “loincloths”.
From this general sketch of our text, it is clear that there are many questions to wrestle with.
- We will start with the serpent.
- We will deal with other issues in the coming weeks.
What or who is the serpent?
- On its face, the text seems to tell us only that…
- (1) It is a creature – so God created it.
- (2) It is a creature far different from other creatures due to is “craftiness”.
- (3) It is a creature that can talk.
Where did the serpent come from?
- It seems contrary to a good/very good creation to inhabit it with such a creature.
- Moreover, creation was just brought to perfection with the creation of Eve.
- And now (we don’t know how much time passed) this startling creature shows up in the Garden.
The Hebrew word translated serpent is “nachash”.
- There is little disagreement about its literal translation as “serpent” or “snake”.
- The debate centers around to what extent we are dealing with a literal “serpent” or a symbolic representation of something or someone.
In the ancient Near East, the serpent was used often to symbolize any number of things.
“Throughout the ancient world, [the serpent] was endowed with divine or semidivine qualities; it was venerated as an emblem of health, fertility, immortality, occult wisdom, and chaotic evil; and it was often worshipped” – John Walton.
None of these seem to apply to Genesis’ “serpent”.
- However, “Within the world of OT animal symbolism a snake is an obvious candidate for an anti-God symbol…” – Wenham.
The traditional take is that the “serpent” represents Satan.
- “In accord with the traditional opinion, the snake is more than a literal snake; rather it is Satan’s personal presence in the garden” – Mathews.
Although, nowhere in the OT is “nachash” and Satan co-identified.
- The connection is made by the NT.
- Revelation 20:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,
“The New Testament views the serpent as related to Satan and so ought we, but it offers few details about how close an identification should be made or how the two were related” – Walton.
This intersection of HOW the “serpent” and Satan are related is where it gets interesting.
- We will look at three (two now and one when we contend with “crafty”).
(1) Michael Heiser suggests the following:
- The root of “nachash” is a word that refers to “shining metals, such as bronze”.
- And often the word, when used this way, refers to “divine” beings.
An example of this is found in Ezekiel 28:13.
- Ezekiel 28:13 (ESV) — 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared.
- Heiser says the above text describes “an ‘anointed cherub’ figure, who inhabits the garden of Eden”.
Because of this use of the word and its association with Eden, he suggests that…
“The word nachash may refer to a ‘shining one’ in the Garden of Eden—a divine being who conversed with Eve and deceived her. Since Eden was God’s temple and abode, the ‘shining one’ option represents a viable interpretation. It also helps explain why Eve is not surprised when the nachash speaks to her” – Heiser.
(2) John Walton and Kenneth Mathews suggest the following…
- The “serpent” was a creature used by “satan” to accomplish the temptation of Adam and Eve.
- Interestingly, they suggest there is a NT parallel to this.
The parallel is found in the Gospels.
- Mark 8:31–33 (ESV) — 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Kenneth Mathews makes the connection like this:
“We may interpret the role of the serpent in the same vein as Peter’s resistance to Jesus’ death, where the Lord responded to Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’ (Matt 16:23). Jesus does not mean Peter is possessed with Satan as Judas was when ‘Satan entered’ him (Luke 22:3), nor was he threatened with possession (Luke 22:31). But Peter unwittingly was an advocate for Satan’s cause. Similarly, the snake is a creature speaking against the ‘things of God’ and whose cause is that of Satan” – Mathews.
- Walton (quoting E.J. Young) simply says, “the snake was an instrument used by the devil”.
BTW – One thing that the text makes clear…
- There is an important implication derived from the fact the serpent was created.
- “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 origins of good and evil” – Victor Hamilton.
BTW 2 – “Although the snake is never identified as Satan in the Old Testament, more than the principle of evil must have been intended by the serpent’s presence since 3:15 describes an ongoing war between the serpent and the seed of the woman” – Kenneth Mathews.
What is meant calling the serpent “crafty” – Hebrew “arum”?
- “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God…”
“Arum” is traditionally seen as having a negative connotation.
- Meaning “tricky and cunning, with a focus on evil treachery” – DBL.
- However, there is some well-founded disagreement with this negative connotation.
In a large majority of its uses in the OT, the word has a positive connotation.
- It most often means “skillful and wise” (TWOT), “prudent” (Postell) or “pertaining to wisdom and shrewdness in the management of affairs” – DBL.
OT scholar Seth Postell suggests the best definition for Genesis 3 is “prudent”.
- This would mean, “a person who shows cleverness, sensibility, and sound judgment in decision making” (Logos).
- He says “a literary analysis of Genesis 3” makes this evident.
Some of the common OT examples of this use.
- Proverbs 14:18 (ESV) — 18 The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
- Proverbs 22:3 (ESV) — 3 The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
This lead us to our third view as mentioned above.
(3) Seth Postell suggests the following:
- The “serpent” – given his status as “arum” – was a pre-Fall Satan.
- He was a creature that was shown “God’s special favor” – Postell.
- In other words, similar to Heiser’s view, the serpent as Satan was a “divine” being (member of heavenly host) that had access to the garden.
How does this relate to our “crafty” discussion?
(1) As part of His good creation, “God did not make a ‘crafty’ creature; he made a wise creature” – Seth Postell.
- In other words, it is incongruous to suggest that as part of a good creation God created a being that was not good.
- Had God done so, He would be the author of evil.
- However, Postell’s take distances God from “the origin of evil” – Postell.
(2) This view accords with the literary symmetry of the Fall story.
- In verse 1, the “serpent” is described as “more prudent” – positive status.
- And then after the Fall and the Curse…
- Verse 14 calls the “serpent” “more cursed” – negative status.
- “The contrast suggests there is a negative reversal of the serpents’ originally positives state” – Postell.
- The sentences are virtually identical – suggesting they be contrasted.
There is a fascinating implication of this view if Postell is correct.
- “A possible solution to the age-old question about the timing of the serpent’s (Satan’s) fall is also provided. When did the serpent fall? It fell in Genesis 3. Thus, Genesis 3 depicts the fall of Adam, Eve, and the serpent” – Seth Postell.
Some my wonder how this squares with Luke 10:18 where Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning fro heaven”?
- This text deals with the expulsion of Satan from a place of authority as evidenced by the successful mission of the 72 (fairly common view).
BTW – Postell also argues that there is a significant textual parallel made between the “serpent” in the Promised Land and Canaanites in the Promised Land.
- “It is the ‘original’ evil inhabitant of the [Promised] land”.
- So just as Joshua and the Israelites had to obey to enter and remain in the Promised Land.
- So to did Adam and Eve have to be obedient to remain in the Promised Land.
- For the Israelites, the temptation to reject God’s wisdom came from the Canaanites.
- For Adam and Eve, the temptation came from the serpent.
And more than that…
- “Adam’s entrance into the garden to conquer the serpent anticipates Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land to conquer the Canaanites” – Seth Postell.
I find it interesting that Postell’s (and Heiser’s) view provides some answers to some troubling questions.
- How did the serpent know about God’s prohibition?
- If he was part of the heavenly host, we have our answer.
- If the fruit was so desirable, why didn’t the serpent eat of it?
- Maybe it did.
- Or maybe, as part of the heavenly host, already had the knowledge of good and evil.
- Why weren’t Adam and Eve freaking out over a talking serpent?
- Apparently it was previously nothing to be concerned with.
One question we will never have a satisfactory answer for is…
- Why did Adam and Eve (and perhaps the serpent) choose to fall?
The Fall was a historical event.
- Even John Walton affirms this.
- “The face value of the text suggests that the author wants us to believe that this event really happened. Moreover, the reality of the Fall is an essential foundation to Pauline theology, and the New Testament consistently shows it considers the events of Genesis 3 to be true, as historical realities” – Walton.
- Adam/Eve were to guard the sacred space of the Garden (their sacred service).
- Given the fact that we are the temple and are “in Christ”, we are also tasked with this sacred service.
- Do we adequately guard the temple?
- Or do we embrace the wisdom of the creature over that of the Creator?