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

to man.

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

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