That Old Serpent

As the Bible introduces us to God in Genesis, the first two chapters reveal that He is for mankind: He created us, cares for us richly, and provides for our every need. The first indication that anything is against mankind doesn’t come until chapter three, when we see the cunning and crafty serpent tempting man to disobey God. Though few details are given as to who/what this serpent is in Genesis, it is clear from the rest of Scripture that this being is Satan.

It might surprise some to learn that Satan is not technically a name. The word means “adversary” or “enemy.” For example, Hadad the Edomite is called “an adversary,” using the Hebrew word typically translated “Satan” (1 Kings 11:14). When Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” He’s probably not saying Peter is Satan, but rather that he’s behaving as an adversary by attempting to stop Him from His mission (Matthew 16:23).

Other descriptions of this being are also not technically names. Satan is called the “Devil,” a term meaning a “slanderer” or “false accuser” (e.g. Matthew 4:1, “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10), Abaddon/Apollyon (Revelation 9:11; destruction/destroyer in Hebrew/Greek), Beelzebub (e.g. Matthew 10:25; “lord of the flies” or “lord of filth”), and Belial (e.g. Deuteronomy 13:13; “worthlessness”). He is also occasionally called “Lucifer,” but this is based on a misunderstanding of Isaiah 14, a passage which in context applies not to Satan but to the king of Babylon.

New Testament authors twice returned to the Genesis picture of Satan as a serpent. Paul warned the Corinthians of the danger of being deceived and corrupted “as the serpent deceived Eve” (2 Corinthians 11:3). If the descriptions people in the Bible applied to this spiritual being are accurate, then it’s important to realize that even though we might not see a snake tempt us, Satan remains not only crafty and cunning but a powerful enemy seeking to destroy us and waiting to speak against us on the day of judgment. The second mention of “that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan,” though reveals that Satan’s power is no match for God (Revelation 20:2). His end is the lake of fire, to “be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Satan deceived Eve. If Paul’s words are anything to go by, he is still trying to deceive us today. Eve’s fall to deception led her to sin and, when Adam joined her, brought death to mankind. However, God promised Eve that the serpent’s head would be crushed by her seed (Genesis 3:15), who is Jesus. Though “serpent” isn’t mentioned, Paul promised us, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20). What a blessing to know that God will ensure that we share in Jesus’ victory over that old serpent!  
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org
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