Genesis 3:14-15, The Serpent’s Sentence
The Scriptures make a big deal about the talking serpent, because God is trying to teach us something. However, if this story is unsettling to you, I recommend this primer here.
Setting the scene, God initially requires an explanation from Adam, but Adam plays “The Blame Game”. Adam blames his wife (although he blames God more!), who in turn blames the serpent. Yet the serpent was unable to ‘pass the buck’… because it was already cursed, and lost its ability to speak.
And YHVH Elohim said to the serpent, “Because you made this, you are cursed more than all the livestock, and every beast of the field. Over your belly will you go, and dust will you eat every day of your life. And I will place hostility between you and between the woman, and between your seed and between her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:14-15)
Christians teach that the serpent is ‘Satan’, citing other obscure scriptures as justification, but I think it’s an incorrect assumption. There is no solid biblical evidence that the serpent was possessed, or otherwise was one-in-the-same as ha-shatan (“the accuser”). Now, I do believe that ha-shatan was implicated somehow, because “from the Beginning the Adversary has kept on sinning” (1 John 3:8). But for whatever reason, we aren’t given the accuser’s role; it remains a mystery. However, emphatically teaching “the serpent is Satan!” distracts us from this passage’s intent. The following attempts to explain my position.
First of all, the phrase “cursed from all cattle…” says that the serpent was cursed from all other animals, as it would become “the adder in the way”. Additionally, Mankind would forever have a specialized hostility to them, unlike how the majority of us humanely treat our pets, livestock, and wildlife.
The same phrase (because you made this, you are cursed more than…) is constructed similar to Genesis 3:1 — “the serpent was clever, more than any beast of the field which YHVH Elohim had made.” This is by design. Both phrases feature the verb asah (to make), and compare the serpent to other wild animals. Combined, the two teach a lesson: God made the serpent within a “good” creation (cf. Gen 1:31). But God’s reward for making it? The serpent makes something of its own… mischief!
We must remember that the talking serpent, like its Hebrew nachash name implies – was a “divining” false prophet figure which claimed “God knows” such and such (cf. Gen. 3:5), who deceptively convinced men to question and transgress the law of God.
This is an important lesson, because as a result of the Fall, we became just like serpents (gaining cleverness, deceptiveness, etc.). Now, anyone can be a false prophet or teacher! So if this serpent “made” a deception, we can also “make” deceptions of our accord. Or, we can choose to make righteousness in the earth –love, peace, charity, etc. Whatever we choose, we the Creation are sub-creating something. Let’s be sure we’re making acts that last for eternity.
With a curse God put the serpent beneath us once again, but the serpent did NOT lose its ability to walk, as many have claimed. It was created slithering, just as Chavah was created to bear children to “fill the earth” (cf. Gen. 1:28, 3:16), and just as Adam was made to till the ground (cf. Gen. 2:15, 3:17-18). When God judges all three parties, He’s reminding each guilty party of what they really are (slitherers, mothers, and “dust”). Let’s remember that Adam and Chavah wanted to be gods on par with YHVH Elohim. Now, when a woman has labor pains – pains that could claim her own life – she remembers that she is NOT a god. When men pour blood sweat and tears into labors, knowing that all it leads to us death, he remembers that he is NOT a god.
So there IS a reason God specifically tells the serpent the obvious: “over your belly will you go, and dust will you eat.” Without its deceptive words, the serpent is NOTHING. It is a literal “low life” that always has its body and tongue in the dirt. And God ensures that Mankind would never be its prey again.
Comparatively speaking, if you took away the words of a false prophet, what do you have?
Someone who is also moved by his “belly”:
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put snares alongside the teaching in which you have been trained — keep away from them. For men like these are not serving our Lord the Messiah but their own belly… (Romans 16:17-18a)
And consumes the “dust”:
… by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the simple. (Romans 16:18b)
God said in the Scriptures that we would always have “hostility” with serpents. We ought to have the same in regards to the false prophets and teachers, as Rav Shaul (Paul) says: “keep away from them!” Like serpents, wherever they go, so does their belly. They move from congregation to congregation, seeking material things like your money and seat of authority. Like serpents, they are smooth talkers and deceivers, and they want to consume the “dust” – us! For dust we are, and to dust we shall return (cf. Gen. 3:19).
However, false prophets are no match for the Power and authority of Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua said that we would “take up serpents” – and he wasn’t talking about us judo-chopping snakes with garden rakes. He was talking about facing the false prophets of the world! The best that natural snakes can do is yip at our heels, but we have the power to lop off its head. The same rule applies in a spiritual environment. The false prophets will target our “heels” – meaning those among us most ignorant and susceptible to deception – but we have a mandate to face these soothsayers, and to rebuke their leaders (their “heads”). We must expose them for being moved by their bellies (by their works will you know them), and not by the Spirit of YHVH Elohim.
Somewhere in the world, there is a snake ready to startle an unsuspecting gardener. Somewhere else in the world, there is a false prophet deceiving the ignorant. There is no way to rectify either situation without hostility and confrontation. It’s simply been the way of the world since Genesis.