If you know your bible you obviously get my reference to Genesis 3. This is our introduction to the serpent in scripture. One of the tools atheists use to mock believers is to derisively refer to the foolishness of believing in a ‘talking snake.’ Holding to the importance and value of scripture and truth I think it is important to have a deeper understanding of the context of Genesis 3 and what happened. Like the atheists, I don’t believe in a snake coming up to Eve for a friendly dialogue.
The context is a good beginning point. The events of Genesis 3 took place in Eden. The rest of the planet was not like Eden, hence the command for humanity to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). Eden was a garden and when we move forward in scripture, we discover that it was also a mountain (Isaiah 14:13, Ezekiel 28:14). If this is a new thought for you, it highlights the importance the ancient near eastern worldview of the culture in which Genesis was written. In the culture of the day the ‘gods’ lived in gardens and mountains. They were a place of abundance and remoteness. Much of the culture was subsistence based and people saw the ‘gods’ as having a much better life, hence the abundance of the garden and the inaccessibility of the mountain. We also have the reality that the cultural stories were also rooted in something real, creation and the fall.
As I write this I am in the mountains and the serious spring melt has not yet begun. When it does there will be an awful lot of water flowing to the valleys from the mountains. Eden had four rivers flowing out of it (Genesis 2:10). Physically my own view is that the ‘mountain of God’ had the garden at the base. Given that it was made inaccessible after the fall, and later disappeared at the flood, we won’t know in this lifetime. My point is really to place what happened in Genesis 3 within the historical cultural context.
Now, if you delve a little further into the population of the garden, like me, you may have had an image of Eden as a garden that was populated by Adam and Eve and a huge number of birds and animals. This is how I once viewed it with God visiting in the evening to walk and talk with Adam and Eve. The mountain and the garden represented God’s place of government on earth so there was likely a lot more going on then we tend to think. Hang onto your theological hats as I propose something. First some scriptures.
9 “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; 10 A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened. Daniel 7:9–10 (NKJV)
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. 6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:1–11 (NKJV)
These two scriptures passages both depict throne room council scenes in heaven and in a limited way describe the myriad supernatural creatures that form Yahweh’s heavenly family and government. If Eden was God’s throne room on earth, then there was likely far more that Adam and Ever were exposed to than just the animals in the garden. Obviously, given their interactions with Yahweh, prior to the fall Adam and Eve could interact with more than the natural realm. While it is unlikely that they saw anything like Daniel and Revelation describe, these things were happening around them and they were likely exposed to other supernatural beings. Which brings us back to the serpent.
We begin to understand the serpent by examining Genesis 3:1.
1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (NKJV)
We have two important words here, serpent and cunning. Before looking at them I want to look at how we read this verse. I think in general when we read ‘any beast of the field’ we think of it as ‘any other beast of the field.’ However, the point being made is that the serpent was more cunning and was different than the beasts of the field. Some bible translations say ‘any other beast…’ but that reflects the theology of the translators not the Hebrew text. We aren’t dealing with a talking snake; we are dealing with a supernatural cunning being that either embodied a serpent or was a luminous being that looked like a serpent. We see echoes and memories of the Genesis event in a number of the surrounding cultures in that in them the serpent was a god or associated with the gods, a tree and wisdom.
The word serpent is nachash and refers to a snake or serpent and has hissing sound at the end of the word, as in the hissing of a snake. The word cunning is aruwm and refers to being cunning or subtle in a negative sense. While we know from Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 that this serpent is Satan, the adversary, all Eve knew was that she was interacting with a divine being who knew things beyond what the creatures of the field knew. My purpose in presenting all of this is twofold. One, there is often more going on in scripture than a casual reading suggests. Two, we need to discern, see the reality that lies behind appearances, and respond accordingly. The serpent’s agenda has not changed throughout human history. He seeks to comes to us and cast doubt on God’s word to make us stumble or rebel in our thoughts and actions. Let’s be alert, discerning and thus confident in His leading as we come to His word and interact with Him in the place of prayer.