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Go to Bible: Genesis 3
“Serpent.” The “serpent” is the Devil. Here in Genesis 3, the Devil is called the “serpent” (snake) by the figure of speech hypocatastasis (comparison by implication). Calling the Devil a serpent is similar to calling a sloppy person “pig,” or calling an overly cautious person “chicken” (for more on simile, metaphor, and hypocatastasis, the three main figures of comparison, see commentary on Rev. 20:2). Calling the Devil a “serpent” compares him with a serpent (snake), and assigns the characteristics of a serpent onto him, implying that he is an ambush killer who is sneaky, crafty, and deadly. We can correctly identify the “serpent” as the Devil here in Genesis 3 from 2 Corinthians 11:3 and Revelation 20:2.
Also, however, as we will see later in this study, the Hebrew vocabulary allows for the Devil to have actually appeared to Eve and Adam as a glorious “Shining One,” a glorious and powerful angel, yet still be called “the serpent” to portray his crafty characteristics.
The Bible never gives us the actual personal name of the Devil; the name he was given when God created him. We know the names of important angels such as Michael or Gabriel, but when it comes to the Devil, all the Bible gives us are appellatives and descriptions that let us know about his evil nature and his power. Many of the names in the Bible are given as “mini-portraits” of the person, and that is the case with the Devil. The “names” of the Devil portray him very well, names such as “Slanderer,” “Adversary,” “Opposer,” “Wicked One,” and “Dragon.”
Unfortunately, God calling the Devil the “serpent” here in Genesis has given rise to the tradition that the Devil came to Eve in the form of a snake, but that is highly unlikely. The name “the Serpent” is a fitting name for the Devil, and the sneaky, crafty way he approached Eve in the Garden of Eden made “serpent” the right name for him in that circumstance. Then, God gave references in other places in the Bible so readers would know “the serpent” was the Devil.
There are a number of reasons for not believing that the Devil came in the form of a snake, but came as a powerful angel, a “Shining One.” For one thing, Genesis 3:1 says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any animal of the field that Yahweh God had made.” The Bible does not say “a serpent” or “serpents,” as if snakes were more crafty than the other animals that God created, but “the serpent” (the Devil), and indeed “the serpent” of Genesis 3 was more crafty than any of the animals, including snakes, because this “serpent” was the Devil, the “anointed cherub” of Ezekiel 28:14, a gorgeous and powerful angel.
Also, it seems clear that snakes could not talk before the Fall just as they cannot talk now. Thus, especially since Adam was with Eve when they sinned (Gen. 3:6), they would have immediately recognized that a talking snake was an abnormality from God’s creation and been suspicious of this new creature. The Devil did not want to arouse suspicion, but on the contrary, would have wanted to acquire immediate acceptance and trust, so coming as a talking snake would have been a disadvantage. Also, why would a snake question God? At this time before the Fall of Adam and Eve, snakes were part of God’s animal creation and were “good.” Furthermore, no snake would have known that Adam and Eve would be “like God” if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus the evidence is that the Devil did not appear in the Garden as a talking snake. In contrast to snakes before the Fall, the Devil was not good, already had characteristics that snakes would be known for after the Fall, and would have known about things about the spiritual world that Eve and Adam would not have known.
So while it is possible that the Devil could have taken on the form of snake, why would he? Since he would have been recognized by Adam and Eve as not being one of God’s created animals, why come as an animal at all? Adam and Eve knew about the angelic world, so it is much more logical that the Devil would come as the “Shining One,” an angelic being that lived in the realm of God and would have had knowledge that other animals would not have had,
E. W. Bullinger, the author of Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, recognized that the Devil did not actually come in the form of a snake, but as a shining, glorious being. He points out that the Hebrew word normally translated “snake” or “serpent” is nachash (#05175 נָחָשׁ), and that the “serpent” was in reality “the Shining One.” Bullinger writes: “The Hebrew word rendered ‘Serpent’ in Genesis 3:1 is Nachash (from the root Nachash, to shine), and means a shining one. Hence, in Chaldee it means brass or copper because of its shining. Hence also, the word Nehushtan, a piece of brass, in 2 Kings 18:4” (The Companion Bible: Appendix 19, “The ‘Serpent’ of Genesis 3”).
The book of Corinthians gives us good evidence that the Devil did not come to Eve and Adam in the form of a snake, but as a glorious angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (ESV). But when in the Bible did Satan ever show up as an angel of light? He might have appeared that way to Jesus when he came to tempt him (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:2). But it makes perfect sense that the Devil appeared to Eve and Adam as an angel of light, a “Shining One,” a glorious representative of the spiritual world, and as such he would have had immediate credibility and presumed authority when he spoke with Eve and Adam, and also in that form he certainly would have had knowledge of God and the spiritual world that Eve and Adam did not have.
So, Genesis 3:1 records an actual historical event. The Devil came to Eve and Adam as “the Shining One,” a powerful representative of the angelic world. But since in the Hebrew language the word nachash (“shining one”) almost always means “snake, serpent,” God’s calling the Devil the nachash here in Genesis 3:1 both allows for the historical fact that the Devil appeared to Eve and Adam as a glorious “Shining One,” and is also represented in the text by the figure hypocatastasis as “the serpent,” the crafty and deadly ambush killer.
[For a list of the names of the Slanderer, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil”].
“crafty.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, which is a homonym (two words that are spelled the same but have different meanings such as the “bark” on a tree and the “bark” of a dog). The two meanings of arvm that are important for understanding Genesis are “naked” (Gen. 2:25) and “crafty” (Gen. 3:1).
The original ancient Hebrew text did not have any vowels except the Hebrew letters aleph and ayin, which are both “a.” The pronunciation and meaning of the original text had to be passed down accurately from generation to generation or much of it would be lost. Between the seventh and tenth centuries AD, a way of using little characters, which were mostly dots and dashes, and putting them before, after, over, under, and between the letters in the Hebrew text, was instituted to help people pronounce and remember the words. These characters are known as “vowel points,” and for generations now they have been in the standard Hebrew text known as the Masoretic Text.
If we illustrated the problem in English, an oversimplified example might be if the letters “HT” were in a manuscript. What is the correct way to put vowels with those letters to make words? In the case of the five English vowels, each of them can be used to make a different word: HAT, HATE, HIT, HOT, HUT. The words are totally different, even though the root, HT, is the same. Putting the vowels in the words helps us remember, and properly pronounce, the words.
Although the Masoretic vowel points are mostly undisputed, a lot of time passed between when Moses, Samuel, and others wrote the original autographs and when the vowel points were added; in some cases, more than 2000 years. So the vowel points are generally, but not universally, agreed upon, and they are not considered to have divine authority. This is one reason scholars often debate the meaning of a Hebrew word or phrase, and why translations of the Old Testament sometimes differ in places.
In the case of Genesis 2:25 and 3:1, the root word arvm is pointed with an “ō” when it is translated naked (arōm) and pointed with a “ū” when translated “crafty” (arūm). Although many scholars say these two words are built from different trilateral root words, the spelling of the root words in Genesis is the same: ARVM; ayin, resh, vov, mem; as any good lexicon will show.
Clear verses like Genesis 2:25 and 3:1 are not problematic; no one thinks that before they sinned Adam and Eve were “crafty” and the serpent was “naked.” But there are verses where it seems clear that both meanings—naked and crafty—are meant at the same time (Gen. 3:7, 10-11). In those situations, we can see the wisdom of God in authoring the text the way He did and choosing its vocabulary. By using a homonym like arvm, God can put both meanings into one verse in a way that the wise and studious will see it, but someone who is not deeply reading the text will miss it entirely. This is in line with Proverbs 25:2 (REV): “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.”
When Adam and Eve sinned, they took on the very nature of the Devil: they became “crafty,” like the Devil. Furthermore, they knew they were arvm, both “naked” and “crafty.” Today we call our inner craftiness the “sin nature,” and it is why every human has to be saved. We do not know the mechanism by which Adam and Eve took on the crafty nature of the Devil, but we see its effect immediately. They became afraid of God, and they lied to Him. The books of Romans and Galatians have a lot to say about our human sin nature and why we need salvation through Jesus Christ. [For more on our sin nature, our “crafty” nature, see commentary on Rom. 7:17. For more on man becoming both naked and crafty, see commentary on Genesis 3:7].
Was the serpent in the Garden of Eden a literal snake? Figures of speech in the Bible answer this question. The Hebrew word for snake, “nachash”, or shining one, also reveals the devil’s appearance. Through understanding the use of language, we learn that the Biblical account of the serpent in the Garden of Eden is an actual event and not a fable. The devil’s tactics then are the same he uses today.
Verses: Gen. 3:1-4; 2 Cor. 11:3,13,14
Teacher: John Schoenheit
|Gen 3:2||- (top)|
|Gen 3:3||- (top)|
“die, yes, die.” The Hebrew text much more graphically shows the boldness of the serpent than do most English versions. Once he knew Eve was not clear on what God said, he blatantly and powerfully contradicted it, ending his sentence here in Genesis 3:4 with the same two verbs with the same verb tenses that God had used in His command in Genesis 2:17, with the exception that the Devil changed God’s singular to a plural to include both Adam and Eve. God used the figure polyptoton for emphasis in Genesis 2:16-17, and the Devil used it here to renounce what God had said. God said if they ate they would “die, yes, die.” The serpent said, “No! You will not ‘die, yes, die.” [For more on the figure of speech polyptoton, see commentary on Genesis 2:16].(top)
“in the day.” The Hebrew does not have the definite article. This is the same wording as Genesis 2:17 (see commentary on Gen. 2:17).(top)
“husband who was with her.” We could translate that more freely as, “who was right there with her,” because that is the clear implication of the Hebrew text. Everett Fox in The Schocken Bible: The Five Books of Moses says Adam was “beside” Eve. Adam failed in his duty as Priest and Protector.(top)
“knew.” This is the common word for “know” in Hebrew, yada (#03045 ידע), but in this case it is being used in a full sense of both knowing and knowing the implications. It is not being used for simple intellectual knowledge, as if Adam and Eve were nude before but were somehow ignorant of it. They now knew all the implications of their nakedness, including the sin that had opened their eyes to their being naked, and so they were afraid and ashamed (Gen. 3:10).
“naked.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, a homonym, and it can mean “naked” or “crafty.” Adam and Eve were naked [arvm] in the Garden (Gen. 2:25), when the “crafty” [arvm] serpent came to them (Gen. 3:1). They disobeyed God and sinned, and knew they were arvm, but here in Genesis 3:7, should arvm be understood as “naked” or “crafty?” Actually, both, and the original unpointed Hebrew word can mean both. They knew they were naked (arvm), so they made fig-leaf coverings. If nakedness was their only problem, those coverings would have taken care of the problem, but it didn’t because Adam and Eve had also become arvm, “crafty,” and so they were also afraid and ashamed, which is why they hid from God—and their inner craftiness and serpent nature was a problem that would be with them until they died. Genesis 3 then goes on to show how both men and women are crafty, and how that shows up in human life. Adam blamed God for giving him Eve (Gen. 3:12), and Eve blamed the serpent when it was her own desire that caused her to sin (Gen. 3:13). After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, mankind continued to show its crafty nature—a nature that without God’s intervention, ends in everlasting death for each human. Paul wrote: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me out of this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25). Jesus Christ is the way to everlasting life. [For more on Adam and Eve being naked and now naked and crafty, see commentary on Gen. 3:1. For more on the sin nature that lives in mankind, see commentary on Rom. 7:17].(top)
“They heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden.” This is one of the times in Scripture that God came into human form to fellowship with His creation, in this case, with Adam and Eve. Anyone who has walked in the woods knows the “sound” (not “voice” as in some translations) of someone walking. There is a distinct rustling and crunching sound. Adam and Eve, who lived in the garden, recognized the sound of God walking in it and hid. The fact that Adam and Eve recognized the sound God made as He walked shows that He came regularly to the garden to fellowship with Adam and Eve. [For more on God coming in the form of a human being, see commentary on Acts 7:55].
“at the time of the evening breeze.” The Hebrew text is more literally, “at the ruach (spirit, wind) of the day.” In the evening in Israel as the sun goes down and the air cools there is a breeze (ruach, “wind”) that blows over the land and it is a wonderful time to relax after the heat of the day. So after a hard day tending and guarding the Garden of Eden (all the animals ate plants so the garden had to be guarded), Adam and Eve would relax in the cooling “breeze of the day” and God would come and fellowship with them.(top)
|Gen 3:9||- (top)|
“naked.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, and it is a homonym that can mean “naked” or “crafty,” and in this context it means both. See commentary on Genesis 3:7.(top)
“naked.” The Hebrew root word is arvm, and it is a homonym that can mean “naked” or “crafty,” and in this context it means both. See commentary on Genesis 3:7.(top)
“fruit from the tree.” The Hebrew text leaves out the word “fruit.” Adam just said, “she gave to me from the tree,” as if he was so aware and ashamed of his sin that he could not bring himself to say what it was he ate. In our fallen state we naturally have a very acute sense of our faults and failures, and generally don’t like facing them.(top)
|Gen 3:13||- (top)|
“on your belly you will go.” The serpent in the Genesis record is not a literal snake, it is the figure hypocatastasis for the Devil [see commentary on Gen. 3:1, and also Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil,” under “serpent”]. In spite of that, however, God uses idioms that apply to a snake when talking to the Devil. Genesis 3:14 is a good example, because the idiom “to crawl on your belly” is an idiom for oppression and humiliation, and even today that kind of idiom is used (Ps. 44:25).
“you will eat dust.” This idiom refers to being defeated; “utter defeat.” We can see it being used in Psalm 72:9. We still use the same idiom for being defeated today, although usually in the context of being a loser in some kind of race or contest. The Devil, that “ancient serpent,” will always be defeated. He wins minor skirmishes, but he has been defeated over and over for thousands of years now, and eventually will be totally defeated and destroyed.(top)
“your seed and her seed.” The Hebrew word for “seed” can be singular or plural, like “seed” in English. That is why some translations say “offspring,” indicating more than one. Also, although used technically the female has an egg while the male has a sperm or “seed,” the Hebrew word “seed” was used for offspring in general, as it is here in Genesis 3:15 (cp. Gen. 4:25; 9:9; 24:60; 46:6; Ruth 4:12; Esth. 9:27). The singular “seed” (offspring) of the woman, which was of primary concern to God at this time, was Christ, who would ultimately defeat and destroy the Devil (cp. what God said to Abraham; Gen. 12:7; Gal. 3:16), although the general nature of the prophecy would have included those among Eve’s “seed” (offspring) who were godly people and who throughout history have opposed the Devil and his minions.
The “seed” (offspring) of the serpent is all his children. For more on the children of the Devil, see commentary on Matthew 12:31.
“I will put hostility.” Once the Devil knew that he would be destroyed by one of the offspring of the woman, he started an aggressive campaign against them. At first it was against all people, and resulted in God rescuing humankind by Noah’s flood. As the people who would bring forth the Messiah narrowed, the intensity against the progenitors of the “seed” increased; thus, for example, came the aggressive attacks on the Jews.(top)
“multiply, yes, multiply.” This is the figure of speech polyptoton. It can be also translated as “greatly multiply” or something similar. The figure catches our attention and brings emphasis to the text. [For more on polyptoton and the way it is translated, see commentary on Gen. 2:16, “eat, yes, eat”].(top)
|Gen 3:17||- (top)|
|Gen 3:18||- (top)|
|Gen 3:19||- (top)|
|Gen 3:20||- (top)|
|Gen 3:21||- (top)|
“has become like one of us.” God is speaking to His divine council of spirit beings, pointing out that Adam, like them, now has full knowledge of good and evil. The council would have become very aware of evil when the Devil sinned and rebelled. [For more information on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26].
“knowing.” The Hebrew word translated “know” is the common Hebrew word for “know,” yada (#03045 ידע), and it means to know something intellectually, but it is also used of knowing something experientially, and it is also used idiomatically.
Here in Genesis 3:22, “knowing” does not refer to intellectual knowledge, that is, mentally comprehending what good and evil are. Adam and Eve intellectually knew the difference between good and evil when they were created, because they knew it was wrong (and thus “evil”) to eat from the tree that God had commanded them not to eat from. So before they sinned they “intellectually knew” good from evil, but now that they sinned they both intellectually knew and experientially knew good from evil.
Genesis 3:22 also lets us know that someone can experientially know good from evil by experiencing it through the words and actions of someone else. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were innocent. They had never experienced evil in any form. But how could God say to His divine council that the humans had now “become like one of us, knowing good and evil”? How could God and His top angels experience evil? They had experienced it in the Devil and the angels that rebelled against God (cp. Isa. 14:12-16; Ezek. 28:12-19).
Besides intellectual and experiential knowledge, “know” is often used idiomatically. For example, it can mean “to care about,” “to act lovingly toward.” Thus, Psalm 144:3 (YLT 1862/87/98) says, “what is man that Thou knowest him,” while the NIV(2011) translates that in a way that recognizes the idiom: “what are human beings that you care for them?” Similarly, Proverbs 12:10 (YLT) says, “The righteous man knoweth the life of his beast,” while the NIV(2011) has, “The righteous care for the needs of their animals.” When a word like “know” is used with a more expansive meaning than just its dictionary definition, scholars sometimes say it has a “pregnant sense.”
The word “know” is also used idiomatically for sexual intercourse. For a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman was to “know” her experientially, and often deeply intellectually as well (see commentary on Matt. 1:25). Many words in the Bible are occasionally used with an idiomatic or pregnant sense, for example, “remember,” “look” and “watch” (see commentary on Luke 23:42).
“knowing good and evil.” The fact that humans have an inherent knowledge of good and evil is very important in understanding the responsibility that humans have towards God. God holds people responsible for finding Him and then showing love and honor to Him by serving Him.
The knowledge of good and evil can move from the inherent to the intellectual via some very basic things: for example, we know that it hurts if people steal from us so we know not to steal from others. We know that it hurts when people lie about us, so we know not to lie to others. The basic understanding of good and evil is why law codes from all ages and all cultures have a deep similarity—although it happens that people and leaders can become so hard and selfish that their conscience becomes cauterized and they follow a path of hurt and pain (1 Tim. 4:2). The inherent knowledge of good and evil is why even children know quickly if a person is good and kind or selfish and hurtful. The inherent and internal basic knowledge of good and evil is why God says that people can do “by nature” the things in the Law that He gave from heaven: “indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves” (Rom. 2:14).
As a person is honest about life and follows their natural knowing of good and evil, they will become more aware of the world around them, how small and weak they are and how big the world and universe are around them, and there is an instinctive knowing that a power bigger than themselves created the world. God says this plainly in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—are clearly seen, being understood through the things he has made, so that they are without excuse.” The fact that people have a natural, internal knowledge of good and evil, and a natural knowledge that there is a Creator is why God can righteously judge every human on the Day of Judgment. People instinctively know there is a power that is not human and that is bigger and wiser than themselves. That is why throughout the ages people have defied or ignored the direction of other humans but sought direction and guidance from a star, stone, stick, statue, crystal, or otherworldly apparition. Even atheistic cultures that supposedly deny God have hundreds of different superstitions in which invisible forces somehow affect what happens in life, so although they deny God intellectually, their actions testify that they bow to “invisible forces” that influence the world.
So although many proud and intellectual people deny it, human beings instinctively know good from evil at a basic level, and also know there is a creator. From that basic understanding, God expects people to use the wisdom He gave them and grow in their understanding and knowledge of Him. God said, “Wisdom is the principal thing, so get Wisdom” (Prov. 4:7), and He expects us to follow His direction and get wisdom. As we do, Wisdom says, “I will die.” Honest Curiosity asks, “What will happen when I die?” Then Logic suggests, “The Creator who created me in the first place likely has a plan for me after I die—another life. Otherwise, what was the point of my life in the first place?” At that point, often in many seemingly unlikely and impossible ways, the words of Jesus Christ come true: “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and it will be opened to you! For everyone who keeps asking receives, and the one who keeps seeking finds, and to the one who keeps knocking it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). God is powerful, imaginative, creative, and ingenious, and if a person truly and honestly seeks answers and seeks their Creator, and so keeps asking, keeps seeking, and keeps knocking, then the God of Truth will find them, and they will gain everlasting life.
“and eat, and live forever–.” God stops in mid-sentence, which is referred to as the figure of speech anacoluthon. The sentence and the thought are never completed. The consequences of living forever in a fallen state are too horrific to try to express.(top)
|Gen 3:23||- (top)|
“cherubim.” At this point in the biblical narrative we know almost nothing about cherubim other than God uses them as powerful guards. We learn more as we read the Scripture. For example, we learn they have wings in Exodus and also in Kings and Chronicles where they are associated with the Ark of the Covenant, no doubt at least in part to represent God’s guarding it (cp. Exod. 25:20; 37:9; 1 Kings 6:27; 2 Chron. 3:11, 13). However, it is not until Ezekiel 1 and 10 that we have a more complete description. They are said to be living creatures, they have four faces on their heads and four wings each, and arms and hands like human hands under their wings. They would then grasp the flaming sword mentioned in Genesis with their hands. Their powerful fast bodies, faces that looked in every direction, and ability to carry weapons made them formidable beings indeed.
“with the flaming sword.” The Hebrew reads “and a flame of the sword,” but it is clear that the cherubim are holding and wielding the swords and the swords were what we would refer to as “flaming swords,” hence the translation in the REV.(top)