THE SERPENT OF GENESIS 3
Appendix 19 of “The Companion Bible”
In Genesis 3 we have neither
allegory, myth, legend, nor fable, but literal historical facts set forth, and
emphasized by the use of certain Figures of speech (see Ap.6).
All the confusion of thought and
conflicting exegesis have arise from taking literally what is expressed by
Figures, or from taking figuratively what is literal.
A figure of speech is never used except for the purpose of calling
attention to, emphasizing, and intensifying, the reality of the literal sense,
and the truth of the historical facts; so that, while the words employed may not
be so strictly true to the letter, they are all the historical events connected
But for the figurative language
of verses 14 and 15 no one would have thought of referring the third chapter of
Genesis to a snake: no more than he does when reading the third chapter from the
end of Revelation (ch. 20.2). Indeed,
the explanation added there, that the “old serpent” is the Devil and Satan,
would immediately lead one to connect the word “old” with the earlier and
former mention of the serpent in Gen. 3: and the fact that it was Satan himself
who tempted “the second man”, “the last Adam”, would force the
conclusion that no other than the personal Satan could have been the tempter of
“the first man, Adam”.
The Hebrew word rendered
“serpent” in Gen. 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.
In the same way Saraph, in
Isa.6.2,6, means a burning one, and, because the serpents mentioned in Num. 21
were burning, in the poison of their bite, they were called Saraphim, or
But when the Lord said unto
Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent” (Num. 21.8), He said, “Make thee a
Saraph”, and, in obeying this command, we read in v.9, “Moses made a Nachash
of brass”. Nachash is thus used
as a being interchangeable with Saraph.
Now, if Saraph is used of a
serpent because its bite was burning, and is also used of a celestial or spirit
being (a burning one), why should not Nachash be used of a serpent because its
appearance was shining, and be also used of a celestial or spirit being (a
Indeed, a reference to the
structure of Gen. 3 (on p.7) will show that the Cherubim (which are similar
celestial of spirit beings) of the verse (Gen.3.24) require a similar spirit
being to correspond with them in the first verse (for the structure of the whole
chapter is a great Introversion). The
Nachash, or serpent, who beguiled Eve (2 Cor. 11.3) is spoken of as “an angel
of light” in v.14. Have we not,
in this, a clear intimation that it was not a snake, but a glorious shining
being, apparently as angel, to whom Eve paid such great deference, acknowledging
him as one who seemed to possess superior knowledge, and who was evidently a
being of a superior (not of an inferior) order?
Moreover, in the description of Satan as “the king of Tyre” it is
distinctly implied that the latter being was of a super-natural order when he is
called “a cherub” (Ezek. 28.14,16, read from v.11-19).
His presence “in Eden, the garden of ‘Elohim” (v.13), is also
clearly stated, as well as his being “perfect in his ways from the day he was
created till iniquity was found in him” (v.15), and as being “lifted up
because of his beauty” (v.17).
These all compel the belief that
Satan was the shining one (Nachash) in Gen. 3, and especially because the heart
was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of
thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground.
I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee” (v.17).
Even supposing that these things
were spoken to, and of, an exalted human being in later days (in Ezek. 28),
still “the king of Tyre” is not compared to a being who was non-existent;
and facts and circumstances which never happened are not introduced into the
There is more about “the king
of Tyre” in Ezek. 28: 11-19 that was literally true of “the prince of
Tyre” (v. 1-10). The words can be
understood only of the mightiest and most exalted supernatural being that God
ever created; and this for the purpose of showing how great would be his fall.
The history must be true to make the prophecy of any weight.
Again, the word rendered
“subtle” in Gen. 3.1 (see note) means wise, in a good sense as well as in a
bad sense. In Ezek. 28.12 we have the good sense, “Thou sealest up the
sum, full of wisdom”; and the bad sense in v.17, “thou hast corrupted thy
wisdom” (referring, of course, to his fall).
So the word rendered “subtle” is rendered “prudent” in Prov. 1.4;
8.12; 12.23; 14.8; and in a bad sense in Job 15.5. 1 Sam.23.22 Ps.83.3.
The word “beast” also, in
Gen. 3.1 chay, denotes a living being, and it is as wrong to translate zoa
“beasts” in Rev. 4, as it is to translate chay “beast” in Gen.3.
Both mean living creatures. Satan
is thus spoken of as a being “more wise than any other living creature which Jehovah
Elohim had made”. Even if the
word “beast” be retained, it does not say that either a serpent or Satan was
a “beast” but only that he was “more wise” than any other living being.
We cannot conceive Eve as
holding converse with a snake, but we can understand her being fascinated by
one, apparently “an angel of light” (i.e. a glorious angel), possessing
superior and supernatural knowledge.
When Satan is spoken of as a
“serpent”, it is the figure Hypocatastasis (see Ap.6) or Implication; it no
more means a snake than it does when Dan is so called in Gen. 49. 17; or an
animal when Nero is called a “lion” (2 Tim.4.17), or when Herod is called a
“fox” (Luke 13.32); or when Judah is called “a lion’s whelp”.
It is the same figure when “doctrine” is called “leaven”
(Matt.16.6). It shows that
something much more real and truer to truth is intended.
If a Figure of speech is thus employed, it is for the purpose of
expressing the truth more impressively; and is intended to be a figure of
something much more real than the letter of the word.
Other Figures of speech are used
in v. 14,15, but only for the same purpose of emphasizing the truth and the
reality of what is said.
When it is said in v. 15,
“thou shalt bruise His heel”, it cannot mean His literal heel of flesh and
blood, but suffering, more temporary in character.
When it is said (v.15), “He shall crush”, it means something more
than a skull of bone, and brain, and hair.
It means that all Satan’s plans and plots, policy and purposes, will
one day be finally crushed and ended, never more to mar or to hinder the
purposes of God. This will be
effected when Satan shall be bruised under our feet (Rom. 16.20).
This, again, will not be out literal feet, but something much more real.
The bruising of Christ’s heel
is the most eloquent and impressive way of foretelling the most solemn events;
and to point out that the effort made by Satan to evade his doom, then
threatened, would become the very means of insuring its accomplishment; for it
was through the death of Christ that he who had the power of death would be
destroyed; and all Satan’s power and policy brought to an end, and all his
works destroyed (Heb.2.14. 1 John 3.8. Rev.20.1-3,10).
What literal words could portray these literal facts so wonderfully as
these expressive Figures of speech?
It is the same with the other
Figures used in v.14, “On thy belly shalt thou go”.
This Figure means infinitely more than the literal belly of flesh and
blood; just as the words “heel” and “head” do in v.15.
It points for the eyes of our mind the picture of Satan’s ultimate
humiliation; for prostration was ever the most eloquent sign of subjection.
When it is said “our belly cleaveth unto the ground” (Ps.44.25), it
denotes such a prolonged prostration and such
depth of submission as could never be conveyed or expressed in literal
So with the other prophecy,
“Dust shalt thou eat”. This is
not true to the letter, or to fact, but it is all the more true to truth.
It tells of constant, continuous disappointment, failure, and
mortification; as when deceitful ways are spoken of as feeding on deceitful
food, which is “sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth shall be filled with
gravel” (Prov.20.17). This does
not literal “gravel”, but something far more disagreeable.
It means disappointment so great that it would gladly be exchanged for
the literal “gravel”. So when Christians are rebuked for “biting and devouring
one another” (Gal. 3.14,15), something more heart breaking is meant than the
literal words used in the Figure.
When “His enemies shall lick
the dust” (Ps.72.9) they will not do it on their knees with their literal
tongues; but they will be so prostrated and so utterly defeated, that no words
could literally depict their overthrow and subjugation.
If a serpent was afterward
called a nachash, it was because it was more shining than any other creature;
and if it became known as “wise”, it was not because of its own innate
positive knowledge, but of its wisdom in hiding away from all observation; and
because of its association with one of the names of Satan (that old serpent) who
“beguiled Eve” (2 Cor.11.3,14).
It is wonderful how a snake
could ever be supposed to speak without the organs of speech, or that Satan
should be supposed able to accomplish so great a miracle.
It only shows the power of
tradition, which has, from the infancy of each one of us, put before our eyes
and written on our minds the picture of a “snake” and an “apple”: the
former based on a wrong interpretation, and the latter being a pure invention,
bout which there is not one word said in Holy Scripture.
Never was Satan’s wisdom so
craftily used as when he secured universal acceptance of this traditional
believe: for it has succeeded in fixing the attention of mankind on the letter
and the means, and thus blinding the eyes to the solemn fact that the Fall of
man had to do solely with the Word of God, and is centered in the sin of
believing Satan’s lie instead of Jehovah’s truth.
The temptation of “the first
man Adam” began with the question “Hath God said?”
The temptation of “the second man, the Lord from heaven” began with
the similar question “If Thou be the Son of God”, when the voice of the
Father had scarcely died away, which said “This IS My beloved Son”.
All turned on the truth of what
Jehovah had said.
The Word of God being
questioned, led Eve, in her reply, (1) to omit the word “freely”
(3.2,cp.2.16); then (2) to add the words “neither shalt thou touch it” (3.3,
cp.2.17); and finally (3) to alter a certainty into a contingency by changing
“thou SHALT SURELY die” (2.17) into “LEST ye die” (3.3).
It is not without significance
that the first Ministerial words of “the second man” were “It is
written”, three times repeated; and that His last Ministerial words contained
a similar threefold reference to the written Word of God (John 17. 8,14,17).
The formed temptation succeeded
because the Word of God was three times misrepresented; the latter temptation
was successfully defeated because the same Word was faithfully repeated.
The history of Gen. 3 is
intended to teach us the fact that Satan’s sphere of activities is in the
religious sphere, and not the spheres of crime or immorality; that his
battlefield is not the sins arising from human depravity, but the unbelief of
the human heart. We are not to look for Satan’s activities today in the
newspaper press, or the police courts; but in the pulpit, and in professors’
chairs. Wherever the Word of God is
called in question, there we see the trail of “that old serpent, which is the
Devil, and Satan”. This is why
anything against the true interests of the Word of God (as being such) finds a
ready admission into the newspapers of the world, and is treated as “general
literature”. This is why anything
in favor of its inspiration and Divine origin and its spiritual truth is
rigidly excluded as being “controversial”.
This is why Satan is quite
content that the letter of Scripture should be accepted in Gen. 3 as he himself
accepted the letter of Ps.91.11. He
himself could say “It is written” (Matt.4.6) so long as the letter of that
is conveyed by it; and so long as it is misquoted or misapplied.
This is his object in
perpetuating the traditions of the “snake” and the “apple”, because it
ministers to the acceptance of his lie, the hiding of God’s truth, the support
of traditions, the jeers of the infidel, the opposition of the critics, and
stumbling of the weak in faith.