My daughter asked me why God curses all serpents to crawl in their bellies when it was Satan who was at fault. I have wondered lately if that is what actually happened. Did God curse all animal serpents or did he just curse Satan in his serpent form, and why was Satan in serpent form anyway? Just some ponderings…
@gchop Such a thoughtful question from your kiddo I think it is safe to say, “No, God did not curse all serpents. This is not a story about how snakes lost their legs. It is a story about sin came into the world and God’s promise to rescue us from our own brokenness and the evil power that deceived Adam and Eve.”
However, I still wrestle with the idea that the serpent was a seraph (angelic being), which is what the below articles argue. It just feels out of place in the text. However, my intuition on that point may be wrong.
Either way, it seems that the statement about the snake crawling on the ground and eating dust was not referring to a loss of legs, but rather to a humiliation and defeat, which makes perfect sense given the context of divine judgment and the protoevangelion of Christ’s victory over evil in Genesis 3:15.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary
Some notes from a commentary.
These suggest that when God tells the serpent that he will crawl on his belly, there is no suggestion that the serpent had legs that he now will lose. Instead, he is going to be docile rather than in an attack position. The serpent on its belly is nonthreatening, while the one reared up is protecting or attacking.
Eating dust is not a comment about the actual diet of a snake. It is more likely a reference to their habitat… (in Egyptian thought) The serpent is a creature of the netherworld, and denizens of the netherworld were typically portrayed eating dust.
This article made some interesting arguments in favor of the view that the serpent in Genesis 3 was not an animal, but an angelic being.
- none of the animals were suitable for Adam as a companion and he named them, suggesting that none of the actual animals had the kind of intelligence humans possess - while the snake in Genesis had an intelligence beyond that of Adam and Eve
- the image of the serpent eating dust and crawling on its belly, in the ancient world, referred to a humiliation and may not have referred to a creature actually losing its legs
- the word “seraphim” used to describe the angelic beings in Isaiah 6 may actually refer to snake-like heavenly beings
- the (presumable) presence of cherubim in the garden as well
Moreover, one may read the so-called etiological allusion to the ordinary snake’s legless locomotion (“on your belly you shall go”) and earthy diet (“dust you shall eat”) in Genesis 3:14 as, instead, a metaphorical description of disgrace and defeat. For instance, the Solomonic Psalm 72 prays that Yahweh would cause the king’s human enemies to bow to the ground and eat dust (72:9). The prophet Micah heralds God’s judgment upon the nations and depicts their defeat in terms of “lick[ing] the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth” (7:17).
In her study of serpent symbolism in the OT and its relation to ancient Near Eastern serpent symbolism, Karen Joines notes the striking resemblance of form and function between the seraphim of Isaiah 6 and the winged serpents that stand erect, wear crowns, and flank the throne of the fourteenth-century BC Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen. She also refers to the many Egyptian scarabs that feature winged serpents, most of which date to the eighth and ninth centuries BC.28 While the Israelite reader would have rejected the mythological distortions of his pagan neighbors, he would have no serious obstacle in viewing the serpent of Genesis 3 as a supernatural being of angelic status that had rebelled against Yahweh and had become the supreme Antagonist to the divine will.
Thanks @SeanO! My daughter will be glad to read this response. It’s so funny how we take some things for granted, like only having ever heard it said that the serpent in Genesis was cursed and hence all snakes now go legless, until one day you stop and think, wait, there is something not quite right about that. That was not the point. God was not dealing with the animal kingdom. He was dealing with…well, I’ve always heard it was Satan. Isn’t that correct? There is so much more to scripture when you really look closely at it and don’t just read into it the things you’ve always been taught is true.
@gchop Glad to hear As is pointed out in the Bible Project video I posted, our spiritual adversary is never given a proper title. The word ‘satan’ means ‘accuser’ or ‘adversary’ in Hebrew and the word ‘devil’ in the New Testament means ‘slanderer’. Both words are used to describe human adversaries as well, but when they refer to our spiritual adversary there is generally a definite article in front of them - ‘the accuser’ or ‘the devil’.
But yes - the belief is that the serpent in Eden was indeed the accuser.
The Hebrew word śāṭān , meaning “accuser” or “adversary,” occurs several times throughout the Hebrew Bible and refers to enemies both human and celestial alike. When referring to the celestial adversary, the word is typically accompanied by the definite article. He is ha-satan — the Accuser—and it is a job description rather than a proper name. From the Accuser’s appearances in the Books of Job and Zechariah, it seems that the job entails calling attention to the unworthiness of mankind.
Satan’s role in the New Testament, though highly expanded, has much more in common with the Accuser of the Hebrew Bible than the commander of the armies of darkness that is typically portrayed in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Over the course of several centuries of influence from many different cultures, the defeated Accuser of the Christians would go on to appropriate aspects of various divine enemies (Typhon, Hades, Ahriman, Hela, to name but a few) to become the complex mythological monster that was thrown out of heaven at the beginning of time to rule the fiery underworld and torment the souls of the damned. Such a character makes for great movies and Halloween costumes, but would have been virtually unknown to anyone in Biblical times.
Thank you @SeanO, it starts to get a bit creepy when you think about it too long.
@gchop What an interesting discussion you two are having. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that Eve did not seem at all surprised that the serpent was having a conversation with her. I’ll have to go back and listen to the videos in case they address that. Isaiah 11:8 “The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.” They came through the ark, and they’ll be in the kingdom. In that sense they’re definitely not cursed. On the other hand, all creation was adversely affected because of man’s sin (Romans 8:20).
Amal, I have had the exact thoughts you mentioned as well, the way Eve seemed to not be surprised at being spoken to by the serpent, and that all creation was cursed even if this serpent’s curse was his own. This is a topic I have not heard much discussion on so I to look forward to going through the resources Sean shared.
@gchop Yes, thankfully Jesus dealt with darkness Himself, so we can focus on walking in the light