The curse God pronounces on the serpent begins in Genesis 3:14. It says, “…on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Although the curse is really on Satan, the figure or the serpent can’t be missed here. As the serpent was the most crafty, tricky, and deceptive of the creatures in the Garden, he was now to be the most cursed. Swindoll says, “Readers have long wondered if the serpent had legs up until this moment, but the physical form of the serpent is of little significance.”[1] Radmacher disagrees with Chuck on this and says, “The text suggests that the serpent became a creature that slithers on the ground and appears to eat dust. This implies that before this the serpent had some other bodily form.”[2] After studying a couple dozen commentaries and ancient writes, a web blogger says, “The more logical answer is that the serpent originally had some form of legs or appendages, and these were either lost or reduced (consider how many reptiles crawl on their bellies and yet have legs, e.g., crocodiles). This seems to correlate with the plainest reading of the passage and the comparison of a curse (‘on your belly you shall go’) as compared with cattle and other beasts of the field, which do have legs.” (by Bodie Hodge on January 26, 2010 Featured in Satan, the Fall, and a Look at Good and Evil)

“On your belly” puts your appetites on the ground. His whole mind and everything about Satan was “fleshly” or “earthly.” I haven’t found this anywhere, but my son noticed that the passions and desire of the flesh are of this world, earthly. He suggested we think about this curse as saying something like, “all your interests, desires, and delights will be sought in earthly things only.” Thus, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life are his only interests, and he thinks they should be ours. He even presented Jesus with those same three temptations in the wilderness. There may very well be a figurative sense associated with this curse because we know that serpents don’t actually eat dust. Although many ancient religions have similar ideas regarding the evil one. According to Barry,Ancient Near Eastern texts, such as the Akkadian work Descent of Ishtar, depict serpents as inhabitants of the underworld that feed on dust and clay.”[3] Matthews elaborates on this, “The depiction of dust or dirt for food is typical of descriptions of the netherworld in ancient literature. In the Gilgamesh Epic, Enkidu on his deathbed dreams of the netherworld and describes it as a place with no light and where ‘dust is their food, clay their bread,’ a description also known from the Descent of Ishtar. These are most likely considered characteristic of the netherworld because they describe the grave. Dust fills the mouth of the corpse, but dust will also fill the mouth of the serpent as it crawls along the ground.”[4]

Another thought I can’t escape is that when God speaks to Adam, he informs him that “dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” We know that our bodies will return to the earth and decompose in the grave. God is saying, “the real life of man his soul and spirit are mine! You can have the physical part of him since that’s all you really care about any way with your belly to the ground.” According to 1 Peter 5:8, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The grave, Sheol, is Satan’s territory. The Angel of death is often depicted as a dark skeletal figure in a black robe with a sickle ready to harvest our bodies. God says, “you can have them Satan.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Our rotting corpses, are eaten, so to speak by the dark specter of evil that reigns in the grave. But please remember that this is a temporary situation.  Paul informs us all in 1 Corinthians 15:21f, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive… For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

[1] Swindoll, Charles R., and Roy B. Zuck. 2003. Understanding Christian Theology. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House. 1999. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[3] Barry, John D., Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, Michael S. Heiser, Miles Custis, Elliot Ritzema, Matthew M. Whitehead, Michael R. Grigoni, and David Bomar. 2012, 2016. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. 2000. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.