Genesis 3:1, What Was the Talking Serpent?
And [the serpent] said to the woman…. (Genesis 3:1)
Comments about the “talking snake” fill the Internet – at least 60,100 of them according to Google – but most center on disproving, reproving, or excusing the serpent’s existence, which is impossible. However, it’s good to find what God wants us to know from the Bible’s perspective, just not from the viewpoint of several thousand years in the future.
As I’ve written before and once again, you cannot understand the Eden scriptures unless you see yourself as Adam or Eve, or Adam and Eve as you and your spouse, or Adam and Eve as your son or daughter, etc. Unless you believe it truly existed, it will be a meaningless myth to you, even for those who think it a “nice story.” Yes, if you call it a metaphor – you have already missed God. If however you can place yourself in the Garden – before the physical and spiritual rules that preserved life therein vanished forever – you will behold it for what it was, an intersection of truths that remain today that can help shape you, you and your spouse, and your own sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.
So, what of that talking snake?
What We Know
It talks. Scripture doesn’t explicitly reveal that all animals used to talk, but it’s certainly implied. From the talking serpent to Bilaam’s donkey and subtle implications elsewhere, it’s easy to conclude that all animals spoke before “the Curse” (More on that in the future).
It was named. We know “Adam called out names to every animal” (Gen 2:20), which includes the serpent, “nachash” in Hebrew. This literally means ‘to hiss’, but I do not believe this serpent hissed at all– that trait would come later. Even if it could hiss, the animals were competing to be mankind’s number two (2:20); it would make more sense to converse. Adam must’ve then seen something in the serpent’s speech that would make him call out “You nachash!”
You see, nachash also means ‘to divine’, a practice common to sorcery, witchcraft, and necromancy (cf. Lev. 19:26, Deu. 18:10). Based on Genesis 3, this describes the serpent! He represented himself as a diviner, one who purportedly knew the mind of God, offering divinations like: ‘You will not surely die, for God knows…’ This diviner is what Adam saw in the serpent and thus called him out as ‘nachash!’
So originally, the serpent was a type of a soothsayer who deceitfully claimed to know the mind of God. [White Rabbit: Because the serpent was first a diviner, its hiss became associated with divination.]
It was clever. In Genesis 3:1, the serpent was identified as “clever” (arum). The Bible further defines arum as:
- someone who operates by schemes (Job 5:12)
- someone who conceals his guilt by his words (Job 15:5)
- someone who covers his own dishonor by manipulating the simple (Prov. 12:16)
- someone who doesn’t tell everything he knows (Prov. 12:23)
- someone who invests in knowledge before acting (Prov. 13:16, 14:18)
- someone who understands his every step (Prov. 14:8, 15)
- someone who conceals himself from trouble (Prov. 22:3, 27:12)
This is an exhaustive list; these are all the occurances of arum in the whole Tanakh. We may notice that arum is a characteristic only ascribed to a man; the only place it’s ascribed to anything else is here in Genesis 3:1. In other words, the serpent acted like a clever man before cleverness ever existed in mankind!
The False Prophet
Other things are debatable, but we’ve learned enough about this ancient serpent (as it existed before the Fall) to compare him with the rest of history: the serpent acts like a soothsayer, a false prophet who claims to know what God thinks, is well-versed, and devises schemes for his own gain.
Sound familiar? It should! This serpent represents the false prophet, who in later times would constantly infiltrate Israel and the Kingdom of God! Moshe warned against the nachash “diviner” in Torah, especially Deuteronomy 18, an entire chapter devoted to how the nachash spiritualist will attempt to deceive Israel. Amazingly enough – but not at all coincidence – warnings against such diviners and false prophets surround the most important prophecy of Messiah in all of Scripture. In other words, the layout of the Torah itself prophesies that Messiah Yeshua will be preceded and followed by many false prophets, spiritualists, and false messiahs! Read Deuteronomy 18 for yourself sometime and compare the chapter’s contents to Israel and Messiah’s history.
The Prophets contested false prophets, as many kings filled their courts with prophets of the baals and asherahs.
Then, what was true remained true after Messiah’s advent; He also warned against false prophets (e.g. Matt. 7:15-23, Matt. 24:4). In fact, Messiah’s word in Mark 16:18, “they will take up serpents“- actually means that believers will face false prophets and workers of iniquity head-on!
Thus, Messiah’s apostles did take up scores of false prophets – as one example, almost the entire book of Galatians is devoted to countering the “bewitchings” of the circumcising false prophets who would bind the believers with fear and boast in their flesh.
Lastly, Yochanan (John) wrote of false prophets playing a major role in Revelation and the last gasp of evil.
Therefore, the serpent was a prototype of the false prophet who would repeatedly combat Israel and Messiah’s Kingdom over and over again, never stopping until the end of time.
Whatever the serpent had he ultimately lost in his curse, but not before he manipulated Adam and Eve as the closest thing to a clever, fast-talking false prophet with a well-developed scheme to undermine the Kingdom of God. This is the lesson from history.
Many of you might be thinking, “I thought the serpent was s.a.tan!” Well, the Bible doesn’t say that – ever. However, the same power that fueled the false prophets obviously fueled the serpent, and I’ll provide that evidence, with the serpent’s motive, in the very near future.♦