In my undergraduate study of the book of Genesis, as a final project I had to study six thematic principles in Gen. 3:1-7. This is the second study:
The Creation of the Serpent
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). Genesis 3 can sometimes sound like a story out of Aesop’s Fables: magic fruit, talking snakes, curses, and a flaming sword. However, it would do violence to the Bible to try and allegorize it into a cute little fable – the text will not allow us to do such a thing. All of these seemingly strange things have profound weight behind them, and are all real things. In this post, we will look at this: If this isn’t just allegory, then who is the serpent and where did he come from?
The Bible clearly defines the serpent as none other than Satan, God’s enemy (Rev. 20:2, 12:9). When Satan appears as a snake in the garden, we are not sure why exactly he chose that particular form – perhaps it was because ancient cultures often worshipped the serpent as the god of chaos, but Genesis 3 would have happened before any ancient cultures existed. It is possible that the author of Genesis, writing after ancient cultures would have been put in place, used the known symbol of the serpent as a picture of Satan’s chaotic destructive work, but that is mere conjecture and should not be the focus of the text. Paul elsewhere explains that Satan is able to disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), so why not a serpent as well?
What is ultimately revealing about this text is this simple truth: Satan was created by God. Why else would the author of Genesis go out of the way to remind us that this serpent was a “beast…that the Lord God made”? Scripture tells us that Satan was once an angel (Ez. 28:12-14, Job 1:6, Isa. 14:12) who rebelled against God, was judged and cast out from God’s presence (Isa. 14:13-14, Ex. 28:15-19) and led a throng of angels (now demons) with him in rebellion (Rev. 12:3-9). This means that Satan is a superhuman intelligence, with great power (2 Cor. 2:11, 4:4) who is seeking to destroy God’s people (1 Pet. 5:8). But, Satan has been ultimately defeated by Jesus’ atoning death (Col. 2:15), and will one day be finally destroyed in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10).
We learn several things by knowing that Satan is a created being:
- His power is limited. Satan may have extraordinary power and intelligence, but he ultimately is only a creature, and therefore is subject to the will of the Creator. Sometimes evangelical Christians portray Satan and God as two equal enemies, duking it out over the eternity of mankind. This is a terrible understanding of the nature of Satan – he is a created being and not equal with God. This means that Satan is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. Unlike God, he had a beginning, and will have an end.
- He must submit to God. This may sound puzzling at first, but it builds off the previous point. Because Satan is a creature, that means that he is under the jurisdiction of God’s sovereign will. Does Satan do things that displease God? Absolutely. But does Satan ever do anything that God did not first permit him to do? Never. God’s plans are never frustrated (Ps. 115:3) and He can do whatever He pleases (Job 42:2) – so not even Satan can ruin God’s plans. So, if Satan is limited, and still under the will of God, why does God allow him to blind so many and destroy so much?
- God uses Satan to destroy sin. God only gives Satan enough rope to hang himself with. When Satan came to attack Job, he had to ask God’s permission first (Job 1:9-12, 2:3-6), and God uses Satan’s attack to deepen Job’s faith and trust in God (Job 42:1-6). When sin led Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, God used it to save a nation and reconcile a broken family (Gen. 50:20). Ultimately, however, we see this paradoxical work at the cross. Satan’s greatest feat: the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:46). But God uses Satan’s pinnacle work, to be his own most fatal blow, and from the crushing of the Suffering Servant healing and righteousness flowed to all God’s children (Isa. 53).
- Comfort in Suffering. We don’t know all the reasons why God allowed evil to come into our world, or why He still permits Satan to roam now, but we do know that from the very beginning in the Garden, God had already promised that Satan’s work would be undone (Gen. 3:15). Whatever difficulty I am going through, I can be comforted that God can use whatever evil that Satan throws at me and transform it into something that will deepen and enrich my faith in Him (Rom. 8:28). And I can be comforted to know what the reason for suffering isn’t: it can’t be because He doesn’t love us or cares. If God didn’t love us He wouldn’t have given up His life on Calvary to purchase us eternal life. And because that is true, I can trust Him and His goodness, no matter how dark the storm may be.
Other posts in this series: