‘I am deeply grateful,’ said Frodo; ‘but I wish you would tell me plainly what the Black Riders are…’
‘Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?’ Answered Gildor. ‘Flee them! Speak no words to them! They are deadly.’
– The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkein
One of the questions that kept coming up in the various commentaries I was using was ‘where did the snake come from?’. In the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that everything was good, so who invited the evil serpent?
However, this question was not answered. Not by the commentators and not by Genesis 3. We know, when looking at this passage with New Testament eyes, that the serpent does represent the devil (Revelation 20:9, 12:9). But knowing where evil came from, is not the point of the story here. It is one of the mysteries of the Bible. That is why I have included the quote from Lord of the Rings above. Is it not enough to know, that the snake was a servant of the enemy, and the proper response was to flee, fight, resist and subdue it.
However, there are a few things we can learn about the snake from Genesis – it is not a complete mystery. And that is the subject of this post:
The Snake is not Eternal
We know that the snake/evil is not eternal, because it was not there in the beginning. In fact, in the beginning God declared all His work as very good (Gen 1:31).
The Snake is not (entirely) to blame
Interestingly, despite Adam and Eve’s attempt to blame the snake, the failure was on them. “The snake does not feature in this story as the cause of human failure, but as that which faces human beings with the reality of their trust in God.” (Atkinson) In other words, the snake provides an opportunity for mankind’s faith in the goodness of God to be tested.
See a previous post of mine to review the anatomy of temptation (as found in Genesis 3).
Nevertheless, the fact that the snake is cursed, does imply that it was guilty, hence: ‘because you have done this…’ (v14)
The Snake is not our friend
In the beginning of this chapter, Eve and the snake are talking like friends. Back and forth. Forming an alliance, a conspiracy.
But no matter how fine an allegiance against God (and His ways) may seem, the message of Genesis 3 is that: those who unite in wickedness will not be united for long. We see this as Eve quickly seeks to blame the snake for her “mistake”. We see this as God places enmity between the snake and Eve’s offspring.
We also see parallels in the Psalms, why do ‘the rulers band together against the LORD?…The One enthroned in heave laughs; the Lord scoffs at them’ (2:2&4).
Therefore we should be wary about sinning with others, thinking it will join us closer. I find that gossip is very sneaky like this. We engage in gossip, because deep-down we think it will “unite” us with someone we admire (or who’s approval we seek). However, gossip quickly turns against us and causes division. A wise saying is: ‘there is no honour among thieves’.
The Snake was supposed to be ‘ruled over’
In Genesis 1, God decides to make mankind ‘so that they may rule over…all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (1:26). Notice how Genesis 3 begins, ‘now the snake was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made’ (3:1).
There is no moral judgement in the word ‘crafty’, it is neither good nor bad, it is simply what the snake is like. However, by calling the snake a ‘wild animal’, the author of Genesis is hinting that this was one of the creatures that Mankind was supposed to rule over.
But this is not what happens. Instead of taking charge of the animal, and handling it with authority, Adam and Eve kowtow to the wishes of this crafty animal. They give it permission and space to question God’s goodness.
May we, as Christians, as co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8) as people invited to sit on God’s throne (Rev 3:21), not abdicate our authority anymore! If the snake, if the tempter must sit at the party or crouch at the door, may it be as our enemy – not our friend.
May we declare to God, like the Psalmist – ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies’ (Psalm 23). But let us not invite the snake to take charge.