by Lambert Dolphin
Text of Genesis Chapter 3 with notes interspersed
3:1 Now the serpent [nachash] was more clever than any other wild creature that the LORD God [YHWH Elohim, 9 times this chapter] had made. He said to the woman, "(Indeed) did God [Satan omits "YHWH"] say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?"
In the New Testament the Apostle tells us that Satan appears, often, as an angel of light. If the devil appeared to us with pitchfork, horns and hooves he would not be taken seriously. He is most successful when he comes counterfeiting the appearance and activity of God. [..."For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds." 2 Cor. 11:13-15]. We might suppose that the devil came to Eve in human form, but this fallen angel is identified with the serpent. In the last book of the Bible Satan is seen as a great red dragon. (Revelation 12-13).
God may have instructed Adam at length prior to the arrival of Eve. If so, it is conceivable that Adam would have also received the task of passing along his knowledge to his wife. Men and women are gifted in different ways regarding the way in which they manage knowledge. Men’s minds are often quick to see subtle errors in teaching and men are usually adept at comparing facts and building consistent views of reality. Women can do this as well, but their stronger gifts may lie in facilitating relationships, and integrating different information -- their intuition is by design keen and insightful. It has been suggested by at least one author that Adam failed Eve by not stopping her from eating the forbidden truth. However, God's indictment of Adam (verse 17) is not for being a negligent teacher, but for listening to his wife and heeding her instead of obeying God unconditionally.
Jesus described the devil as "a murderer and a liar from the beginning". Initially, however, Satan approached Eve, not with an outright lie, but with a question, which probably seemed harmless to Eve. How was she to know that the person speaking to her was not God, nor even a friend of God's? This was her first encounter with a stranger; how could she know that his purposes were opposed to God and that he sought to destroy her?
Of the many trees in the garden, perhaps many thousands, Satan singled out one particular tree. He did not bother to mention the rest of the trees on which, no doubt, God had lovingly placed many delectable fruits. There was an abundance of nutritious food to be had for the picking in the garden. The Tree of Life was not forbidden, but in the book of Revelation 22:2 we learn that "the leaves of the tree (of Life) were for the healing of the nations." But the devil cleverly ignored the bountiful provision and the goodness of God.
We know little about the great angel who fell and became Satan the Adversary. In his splendid commentary on Genesis, James Montgomery Boice describes what can be gleaned from scripture about him. See The Snake in the Garden. For general information on the angels, including Satan, see God and His Angels. Incidentally, the Son of God appears in the Old Testament in human form from time to time in what are known as theophanies. In these appearances He is called "THE angel of the Lord," as opposed to "AN angel..." See The Angel of the Lord, by Loren Jacobs.
2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of [she omits, "freely" and "all"] the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, [touching the tree had not been prohibited by God] lest you die.'"
4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die [This was an outright lie]. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened [Here Satan implies a previous condition of blindness], and you will be like the gods, knowing good and evil."
Satan appeals here to man’s desire for hidden or esoteric knowledge. Many cults and false religions (for instance the mystery religions and secret societies) use the same tactic to entice recruits today. Only after initiation and solemn promises (even "blood oaths," as is the case with the Mormons), is this secret wisdom given to the new member. Satan's fall had been because of his pride. Now, in the garden, he appeals to Eve on the basis of her natural curiosity. She lacks something, he suggests. God is hiding truth from her and if only she had that truth her eyes would be opened. Curiosity and a desire to learn is inherent in man and not sinful in and of itself. What God prohibits (for instance the study of the occult) is for our own protection. However, Satan subtly suggests to Eve that God is jealous, not wanting anyone to share his power, and he hints that God is not acting in her best interests after all.
The New Testament speaks of one great lie which continues to grip human beings to this day. "THE lie", as it is named in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 (literal translation), is that man can be his own god, master of his own fate, and captain of his own destiny. It is the same lie that Satan put forth to Eve in the garden. The fundamental lie of human life today (until we are correctly enlightened by Jesus) is that we do not need God since, possessing unlimited "human potential", we can find self-realization and achieve godhood on our own.
James contrasts two kinds of wisdom found in our present world. One is from God and the other is from the Evil One: "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:13-17)
6 So when the woman saw [she makes a judgment based on reason and outward appearances at this point] that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
In the New Testament, "walking by sight" and “walking by faith” are set in opposition to each other. "Without faith it is impossible to please God..." "We walk by faith not by sight, for the things that are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are eternal." Eve was surely walking by sight alone when she ate of the forbidden fruit.
7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. [Note their immediate shame and self-consciousness.]
Clothing in the Bible is a symbol of righteousness. Before the fall the man and his wife were probably cloaked in some kind of marvelous garments of light. When their original created righteousness from God departed, they improvised coverings for themselves from fig leaves. Most artists show this covering as hiding the generative organs. Since sin would affect all of the offspring of Adam and Eve from birth, the entire reproductive gift given by God was corrupted and became a particular source of shame. The sin of Adam and Eve would be automatically transmitted to all their offspring. But our sexuality is only one part of our being that was thoroughly corrupted by the Fall.
Shame and guilt are not the same in the Bible. Guilt has more to do with wrong actions and deeds, whereas shame (bosh) is a feeling of worthlessness and defilement before the Face of a Holy God. Because of the Fall, Isaiah could say,
"O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence--as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make thy name known to thy adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains quaked at thy presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him Thou meetest him that joyfully works righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways. Behold, thou wast angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one that calls upon thy name, that bestirs himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast delivered us into the hand of our iniquities. Yet, O LORD, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand. Be not exceedingly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity for ever. Behold, consider, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins Wilt thou restrain thyself at these things, O LORD? Wilt thou keep silent, and afflict us sorely? (Isaiah 64)
In contrast, it is by faith in Jesus Christ that we are justified before God. He then imputes (charges to our account) the righteousness of Christ. Thus we are clothed, as it were, in white garments. God sees the believer ever after as being "in Christ" and righteous before Him.
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking [God may have taken on a human form in this instance.] in the garden in the cool [breezes] of the day, and the man [ha 'adham] and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
It appears that God had been visiting the man and his wife in the Garden regularly for fellowship and instruction before they sinned against Him. Surely the quality of their relationship with the Creator must have been many orders of magnitude better before the Fall (of man into sin) than it was afterwards. Even time as we know it was damaged by the Fall, so life for Adam and Even had possessed an entirely different quality in their days of Innocence. ("With the Lord one day is like a thousand years..."). For Adam and Eve to be frightened and hiding from God because of the mere sound of God walking in the garden tells us something about the horrendous damage sin had already wrought.
God had said that eating the forbidden fruit would mean "dying you shall die." Instant spiritual death (a broken link, separation from God) had occurred and the long, slow, inexorable process of dying, which encompassed not only the body but the soul and spirit as well, had begun. This is what we would expect for any dependent organism which is cut off from its source of life. The living God is the Source of all life in the universe--life of many kinds and levels.
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:19-29)
9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"10 And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." 11 He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"
Paul in Romans 3 says, "No one seeks after God." Since Adam and Eve's estrangement from God (a result of sin), man has not sought God. Religion (from the Latin, re + legio "to bind back again") reflects man's constant self-efforts to reconnect himself to the source of power and life in the universe, but all such efforts are in vain. We really do not want to find God, we want to find a substitute which will give us what we want on our own terms. God must seek man, and man can not be restored to God apart from God's unique solution to human evil. Jesus said... "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."
Here in Genesis is the first recorded question in the Bible. God asks "where are you?"-- still the most relevant question for every generation. One immediate effect of sin is self-consciousness, shame, and a desire to hide from God (and from one another).
12 The man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." [displacement mechanism]
Adam seems to imply that his sin is God's fault. After all, if he had not given Adam the woman, Adam would never have disobeyed God. All of us rationalize or excuse sin when it first becomes evident to others that we have sinned. However God persists in His interrogation until He obtains an admission of guilt. This is the path of repentance we must follow to this day. "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. " (1 John 1:6-10) When we agree with God in His assessment of the problem in our lives, we have immediate access to His forgiveness and He is ready to restore.
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate." 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above ["over against, "or "out of"] all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity [not the same as "hostility"]between you and the woman, and between your seed ["the seed of the serpent"] and her seed ["the seed of the woman"];he shall bruise [crush] your head, and you shall bruise his heel."16 To the woman he said, "I will [very] greatly multiply your pain [and misery] in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your [yearning] desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
The woman, when confronted by God, blames the serpent. She is closer to the truth that Adam was when he justified himself. But she is honest with God about her failure and so Eve, like Adam, is forgiven, spiritually reborn ,and restored to fellowship with her Creator.
God now discusses consequences with the three parties involved in this "original sin." God begins with the serpent--that is where sin started. Satan's judgment is first. He is not offered any forgiveness or any possibility of redemption. Indeed none of the angels is offered redemption. This gracious offer is made only to the offspring of Adam. For the purpose of gaining this redemption for man, God Himself became a man.
“For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:5-17)
In regard to the woman, enmity is not the same as hostility. Down through history there is special abiding antagonism (the opposite of agape) between woman and the serpent.
Verse 15 contains what is called the "proto evangelium," or first announcement of the gospel to mankind. Eve is to bring forth one unique seed, one unique son, who will be the Savior of the world. Satan will succeed only in bruising the heel of this Messiah; Messiah will, on the other hand, crush the head of the serpent. There is to be one unique seed of the serpent in history, THE (final) antichrist who will be a man fully possessed by Satan. Some have speculated that Satan may genetically modify this man but we can not be certain of this. Satan will try to prove that man can indeed be god. In terms of history, we can say that God allows evil to run its full course. But God will be constantly working to redeem and restore individuals, and eventually to fully resolve the problem of human and angelic evil everywhere.
Both statements in part two of verse 16 are pejorative. A perpetual weakness in Eve--which she must overcome--will be her tendency to possess, control, and manipulate the man for her own selfish purposes. She will readily default to wanting the man to take God's place in the center of her affection and life. Also, men will find it easy to exploit the woman, to be harsh and domineering, not appreciating her deeper emotional understanding, and her healing, nurturing and life-imparting abilities.
17 And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground [eretz] because of you; in toil [and sorrow] you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Having forgiven Adam and Eve of their sin so that they are spiritually reborn and restored to a relationship with God, God now analyzes the situation and delineates the consequences of their sin. All sin can be forgiven, but all sin has harmful consequences. We are not free to chose these consequences! While work was given to man from the day he was created, nature will now be much less bountiful and the ground will yield its crops only with much extra labor. Weeds, thorns and thistles as well as harmful pests will flourish. This "curse" on the earth probably also reduced the amount of new spiritual energy and life coming into the physical world from the realm of the spirit.
Furthermore, Adam and Eve became genetically damaged and the processes of aging, leading to physical death, began. Sin, sickness, disease, pain and suffering became man's lot in life. The biological factors which cause aging and death were genetically transferred to all the descendants of Adam and Eve, except one. See Arthur Custance's wonderful study, "The Seed of the Woman." Custance speculates that the male seed carries the genetic defect of original sin while the female ovum does not. Thus a son born to a virgin could have a body genetically free from the corrupting factors that lead to decay and death.
20 The man called his wife's name Eve [from the Hebrew "to live," or "life"], because she was the mother of all living.
This is a wonderful statement of God's redemptive work in Eve. She is named the mother of all of mankind. One of her unique seeds will be the Messiah Himself. Some Roman Catholics and certain Eastern Churches have claimed that Eve is the "mother of God" (theotokos). Eve is the original mother of the humanity of Jesus. Mary is the direct mother, not of God, but of the man Christ Jesus. God, of course, has no mother.
21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. [implies God killed the animals]
True righteousness is imputed to us by God. No ordinary fig leaves (representing self-righteousness) will do. Skins taken from animals who have been killed are the only suitable garments. By the shedding of innocent blood, Yahweh is demonstrating for the first time in history that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin." God Himself must provide the sacrifice. All through the Old Testament means are provided (by sacrifice), for man's sins to be "covered," until the time when Messiah would come and "take way" human sin altogether. Messiah's work on the Cross then settled once and for all the sin-accounts God has with man.
22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, [sadly] the man has become like one of us [plural pronoun], knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever"
---23 therefore the LORD God drove him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He expelled the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to[not "from" but "to"] the tree of life.
The tree of life must have possessed a healing power which, if eaten from, could have provided Adam and Eve with the ability to live forever in fallen, sinful bodies. Evidently, this would have been a great disaster, since God intervened and did not permit it. We may speculate that, had they eaten of the tree, the final redemption of their physical bodies might have been impossible.
"...Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever...I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Revelation 22:1-5, 18-19)
In verse 24 of Genesis 3 we have first mention of those great angels, the cherubim, who are seen in Ezekiel and Revelation. They are mighty angels around the throne of God. Their job at the gate of the Garden is to guard the way TO the tree of life. They do this with whirling flaming swords symbolic of the cross. The old life of Adam in each of us must die for man to enter Paradise.
A. W. Tozer says, "The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel."
Some Related New Testament Scriptures:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim. 2:13,14)
How long Satan tempted Eve we do not know. In the second book of his science fiction trilogy, "Perelandra," C. S. Lewis depicts the temptation of an innocent woman showing something of the mystery of how a totally innocent, sinless person can be tricked into sinning--given enough time and patient work by the adversary. Adam was evidently not present during the temptation of Eve, but he joined her as she ate the forbidden fruit and, without argument, seems to have joined Eve in disobeying God readily.
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned--sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom. 5: 12-14)
Death has clearly entered the world because of the sin of the man and the woman. This terrible enemy affects them, all their offspring, and the animal kingdom.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as [all who are] in Adam all die, so also [all who are] in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:21,22)
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom.8:19-23)
The creation itself has been damaged, in fact "ruined" by the chain of events set in motion by the Fall of the angels and by the Fall of man. The Old Creation is a dying world, although God sustains it moment by moment with great care. His plans for the redemption of mankind include a new creation as well.
Additional Notes and References:
THE SERPENT OF GENESIS 3, By Dr. E. W. Bullinger
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.
All the confusion of thought and exegesis about the book of Genesis has arisen either from taking literally what is figurative, or from taking figuratively what is literal. A figure of speech is ordinarily not used except for the purpose of calling attention to, emphasizing, and intensifying the literal sense, and the truth of historical facts. While the exact words employed in a figure of speech may not be strictly true to the letter, they are used to convey and emphasize true meanings and historical events.
But for the figurative language of verses 14 and 15 no one would have thought of referring to Satan in the third chapter of Genesis as a snake: no more than when reading the third chapter 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", Jesus Christ, 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 Isaiah 6.2,6, means a burning one, and, because the serpents mentioned in Numbers 21 were burning, in the poison of their bite, they were called Saraphim, or Seraphs.
But when the LORD said unto Moses, "Make thee a fiery serpent" (Numbers 21.8), He said, "Make thee a Saraph", and, in obeying this command, we read in verse 9, "Moses made a Nachash of brass". Nachash is thus used as 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 nachash be used of a serpent because its appearance was shining, and be also used of a celestial or spirit-being (a shining one)?
Indeed, a reference to the structure of Genesis 3 will show that the Cherubim (which are similar celestial or spirit-beings) of the last verse (Genesis 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 Corinthians 11.3) is spoken of as "an angel of light" in verse 14. Have we not, in this, a clear intimation that it was not a snake, but a glorious shining being, apparently an 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" (1) it is distinctly implied that the latter being was of a super-natural order when he is called "a cherub" (Ezekiel 28.14,16, read from verses 11-19). His presence "in Eden, the garden of 'Elohim" (verse 13), is also clearly stated, as well as his being "perfect in beauty" (verse 12), his being "perfect in his ways from the day he was created till iniquity was found in him" (verse 15), and as being "lifted up because of his beauty" (verse 17).
These all compel the belief that Satan was the shining one (Nachash) in Genesis 3, and especially because the following words could be addressed to him: "Thine 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 may behold thee" (verse 17).
Even supposing that these things were spoken to, and of, an exalted human being in later days (in Ezekiel 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 comparison.
There is more about "the king of Tyre" in Ezekiel 28. 11-19 than was literally true of "the prince of Tyre" (verses 1-10). The words can be understood only of the mightiest and most exalted supernatural being that God ever created; and thus 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 Genesis 3.1 (see note) means wise, in a good sense as well as in a bad sense. In Ezekiel 28.12 we have the good sense, "Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom"; and the bad sense in verse 17, "thou hast corrupted thy wisdom" (referring of course, to his fall). So the word rendered "subtle" is rendered "prudent" in Proverbs 1.4; 8.12; 12.23; 14.8; and in a bad sense in Job 15.5. 1 Samuel 23.22. Psalms 83.3.
The word "beast" also, in Genesis 3.1, chay, denotes a living being, and it is wrong to translate zoa "beasts" in Revelation 4, as it is to translate chay "beast" in Genesis 3. Both mean living creature. Satan is thus spoken of as being "more wise than any other living creature which Jehovah Elohim has 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 (2) 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 or Implication; it no more means a snake than it does when Dan is so called in Genesis 49.17; or an animal when Nero is called a "lion" (2 Timothy 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" (Matthew 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 verses 14, 15, but only for the same purpose of emphasizing the truth and reality of what is said.
When it is said in verse 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 (verse 15), "He shall crush thy head", 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 (Romans 16.20). This, again, will not be our 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 (Hebrews 2.14. 1 John 3.8. Revelation 20.1-3,10). What literal words could portray these literal facts so wonderfully as these Figures of speech?
It is the same with the other Figures used in verse 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 verse 15. It paints 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" (Psalms 44.25), it denotes such a prolonged prostration and such a depth of submission as could never be conveyed or expressed in literal words.
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" (Proverbs 20.17). This does not mean literal " gravel", but something far more disagreeable. It means disappointment so great that it would gladly be exchanged for literal "gravel". So when Christians are rebuked for "biting and devouring one another" (Galatians 3.14,15), something more heart-breaking is meant than literal words used in the Figure.
When "His enemies shall lick the dust" (Psalms 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 Corinthians 11.3,13).
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 (3).
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 pure invention, about which there is not one word said in the Holy Scripture.
Never was Satan's wisdom so craftily used as when he secured universal acceptance of this traditional belief: 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, chapter 2.16); then (2) to add the words "neither shalt thou touch it" (3.3, chapter 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 former 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 Genesis 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 news, or the courts; but in the pulpit, and in professors' chairs. Wherever the Word of God is called into question, there we see the trail of "that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan". This 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 Genesis 3, as he himself accepted the letter of Psalms 91.11. He himself could say "It is written" (Matthew 4.6) so long as the letter of what is "written" could be put instead of the truth 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 tradition, the jeers of the infidel, the opposition of the critics, and the stumbling of the weak in faith.
1. Ezekiel 28.11-19, who is quite a different being from "the Prince of Tyre", in verses 1-10, who is purely human.
2. It is remarkable that the verb nachash always means to enchant, fascinate, bewitch; or of one having and using occult knowledge. See Genesis 30.27; 44.5,15. Leviticus 19.26. Deuteronomy 18.10. 1 Kings 20.33. 2 Kings 17.17;21.6. 2 Chronicles 33.6. So also is the noun used in Numbers 23.22;24.1.
3. Greater than that wrought by God Himself, who opened the mouth of Balaam's ass.
From the Hebrew Glossary: Serpent; Snake. Stems from the root that means "shining whisperer," "shining enchanter." In Shemot 7:9-15 the nachash is parallel to the tanin, the sea creature of Bereshith 1:21 and also related to the Livyatan of Yeshayahu 27:1. Nachash is the "shining enchanter" that misled Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden.
James M. Boice, Carnal Knowledge (Gen. 3:7)
James M. Boice, The Snake in the Garden