Things are going along for Adam and Eve in the Garden in their state of innocence. But Chapter three is going to bring God’s enemy into the picture.  There is no warfare without a foe and it’s in Chapter 1 of Genesis three that we meet the foe. The text says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” The Hebrew word for “naked” that we encountered at the end of chapter two of Genesis, sounds like the Hebrew word for “crafty” which is used to describe Satan. It’s like our English words, “hear” and “here.” They are homonyms but have different meanings. According to Niehaus, “The author uses this homonym and its wordplay purposefully: It is precisely the sinless quality of physical and spiritual nakedness without shame that is about to be lost as a result of the serpent’s craftiness. The serpent is also later identified as ‘that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray (Rev. 12:9). He leads astray using lies, and he is the ‘father of lies (John 8:44). He trades in sin, which is deceptive (Heb. 3:13).”[1]

What or who is this “serpent.” Various explanations for the serpent compete for our understanding. It has been interpreted as a mythological character related to magical powers or taken as a symbol of human curiosity, the fertility cult, or chaos/evil. Still, others have proposed that the voice of the snake is the inner person. The voice is none other than the woman’s thoughts.  The traditional opinion among Jewish and Christian interpreters is that the serpent is Satan’s instrument. Luther explained: ‘The devil was permitted to enter beasts, as he here entered the serpent. For there is no doubt that it was a real serpent in which Satan was and in which he conversed with Eve.’”[2] Luther’s idea is most appealing to me because we see that the Demons could possess humans in the Gospels. Jesus even casts them out of someone and sends them into a herd of swine. Further, we see Satan himself speaking through Peter in his attempt to dissuade Jesus from heading to the cross. And it is Satan who is at work in Judas prompting the great betrayal.

Paul recognizes the “craftiness” of Satan in his comment in 2 Corinthians 2:14 where he warms his readers that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light.” Proverbs speaks of Satan as the roaring lion, wandering around looking to feed on the souls of men. Satan is cunning, crafty, devious, and treacherous. He did not present himself as our cartoons might today as a hideous creature with horns, a forked tail carrying a pitchfork. Culver says, “He is wicked, threatening and dangerous, for he is likened to a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) and said to be a murderer and liar (John 8:44). Believers are told to beware of him and to be sober and vigilant against him. This is because he is ‘subtle,’ that is, cunning, deceitful, everything a successful tempter needs to be. This, of course, Eve did not know. One wonders why the Lord God had not warned her of him. At any rate, it was precisely the serpent’s deceit, making evil appear good, desirable, and beautiful, that gave him victory over Eve. And the Bible does not fail to make that point for our benefit.”[3] To always be alert to the wiles of the Devil, Jesus exhorted his followers in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” When something God says is bad is reasonably presented to us as good, watch out!

[1] Niehaus, Jeffrey J. 2014. Biblical Theology: The Common Grace Covenants. Vol. 1. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Mathews, K. A. 1996. Genesis 1-11:26. Vol. 1A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Culver, Robert Duncan. 2005. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. Ross-shire, UK: Mentor.