Summary: Satan caused man to lose Eden and perfect fellowship with God, and so he is man's greatest foe. Man and Satan are enemies.
An angry customer came stomping into the pet shop and confronted the
owner. He said, "When I bought this dog you said he would be splendid for
rats. He won't even go near a rat." "Well," said the owner, "That is splendid
for the rats ain't it?" The statement about the dog being good for rats is one
of those statements that can be interpreted two ways, and though they are
opposites both can be right. To say a dog is good for rats can mean that he
would be a dog that would not harm them, and so he would be good for them.
On the other hand, if the context of the statement is a conversation in which
getting rid of rats is the subject, then the statement means just the opposite,
and good for rats means bad for rats because he is good at getting rid of them.
All of this is simply to illustrate the kind of problem that faces interpreters
when they come to the first judgment in history. Adam had confessed guilt,
and Eve confessed, the cause of their guilt has been traced back to its origin in
the serpent. God accepts the testimony of the witnesses, and He begins to mete
out judgment first to the serpent. The problem facing interpreters is this:
Does the serpent mean literally a serpent, or is this like the literalness that led
to the dog being good for rats? Does serpent in the context mean an evil
power using the serpent? In interpreters debate this, and both sides have
legitimate arguments. We have to evaluate these arguments to try and
understand what God's first negative act in history means.
Everything has been good up to this point, and God has done only what is
positive. Now for the first time we have a negative response to what has
happened. The judgment He passes here affects all of history, and so we need
to evaluate it carefully. First of all, the strictly literal interpretation has some
great defenders. For example, John Calvin says the serpent is a serpent and
the strife is the strife between the human race and serpents. He sees no reason
to spiritualize and make this a reference to Satan. Satan does not crawl on his
belly and eat dust. Everyone has to admit that the literal interpretation of the
words of verse 14 do not fit the picture the rest of the Bible gives us of Satan.
He is called a serpent, but he is also called the prince of the power of the air
and an angel of light. The literal interpretation would seem to limit us to
snakes, and to exploring such things as why we fear them. Some actually
believe this is recorded to explain why snakes do not have legs like other
animals. I feel this is too trivial a reason for God to use space in His revelation
In order to make this first judgment as significant as it must be I am
forced to accept the arguments of those who spiritualize it and see here a
sentence upon Satan. A curse on literal snakes would be meaningless. Snakes
do not feel bad because they crawl on their bellies. They manage quite well,
and do not feel cursed. So it is obvious that the serpent must represent the
person of Satan. Hengstenberg said, "The serpent is thus by its disgusting
form, and by the degradation of its whole being, doomed to be the visible
representative of the kingdom of darkness, and of its head, to whom it had
served as an instrument." The way to reconcile the literal language with the
symbolic interpretation is simply to recognize the necessity for progressive
revelation. Adam and Eve knew nothing about Satan. They did not have the
revelation we have, and so from their point of view the literal serpent and its
seed would have to suffer. The literal view then is true, but it is just not
complete enough, for we know that there was an evil spiritual person behind
the serpent's actions. And he is the real enemy of man. The whole truth
demands that both views be accepted.
The symbolic value of the serpent is clear. It is a fitting symbol of one who
aspired to the pinnacle of heaven, but was cast down to the pit of hell. Satan
does not crawl on his belly, but he has suffered a humiliation as degrading, for
he was cast out of heaven into the dust of earth. This first judgment was far
more severe for Satan than for Adam and Eve. They were cast out of Eden
and suffered great loss, but they were still the highest creatures on earth.
Satan had been degraded from an awesome archangel to a despised devil. The