There is a longstanding argument on the serpent introduced in Genesis chapter 3. Is it merely just a snake, or the devil in disguise? Followers of Judaism typically do not believe in Satan or hell, so they take the position that the snake was just that: a snake. The concept of hell was not spoken of much, if at all, until the New Testament writings and teachings of Jesus. The Jews place the most scriptural weight on the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures) which doesn’t directly mention hell or Satan. It is true that the book of Job introduces Satan, and although the Jews do recognize the rest of the Tanak (the collection of Hebrew writings that Christians call the Old Testament) they do not seem to take the story of Job as being literal, but more likely allegorical or interpreted some other way.
In any case, there is much to be said on the identity of the snake, too much for this posting. I have already written a fairly extensive paper on it, so that is available for viewing here
One observation worth noting that is not in my paper above is that, as I mentioned in a previous posting, God created the animals in classifications. Among those distinctions were the cattle and the beasts of the field and the creeping things. Now, when we think of a snake, what category would we assume a snake would fall into? Most of us would tend to think of ‘creeping things’ I would venture to guess. However if we were familiar with our scriptures (guilty!) we would see quite plainly in Genesis 3:1 that “…the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field…”. And so it seems the snake is not a ‘creeping thing’ but rather classified as a ‘beast’. What follows however, is fascinating (to me at least). After the serpent tricks Eve and all the finger pointing is done, God starts pronouncing his punishments in 3:14:
“The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.””
We could take this curse one of two ways: 1) The snake now has the lowest standing among the categories of beasts and cattle; or 2) the snake was actually re-categorized to be lower than both the cattle and the beasts, and is now a member of the ‘creeping things’. #2 may sound a bit far-fetched, but consider that part of the curse was that the snake would now go on its belly, hence in that sense at least it would be a creeping thing. The general thought is that snakes, before this incident, had legs.
So what does this have to do with the identity of the serpent? Well, from what we do know of the story of Satan, we know that he was a great and mighty angel, in fact the mightiest of all the angels. And we know that he fell from that position. So we can see an interesting parallel between the curse placed on the serpent, and Satan losing his stature in God’s kingdom and being placed in a much, much lower position. This view makes an argument for the identity of the serpent being Satan.
Another item of note is that part of the curse was that the serpent would now eat dust all the days of its life. And what is man made of? Dust. The Hebrew word for what man is made of is `aphar and is the same Hebrew word for what the snake is cursed to eat from now on. I do respect that this is likely not talking about actual dust, but rather dirt or clay. But the point stands that man is made of the same material that the snake was doomed to eat, whatever that was. Josephus, in Antiquities, speculates that it was clay, or as he calls it ‘virgin earth’, and also it being red in color. He mentions the color because the word for red is Edom (similar to Adam) though the general thought is that ‘Adam’ means ‘ground’. As a follower of Christ, I find the use of the term ‘virgin earth’ by a Jew interesting, personally believing that the Messiah came from a virgin woman, as a parallel.
Perhaps before this event Satan was tormenting other angels in the Kingdom of Heaven, and now, having been thrown down to earth, his realm is more restricted to tormenting men. The new testament contains two passages concerning Satan’s desire to devour us:
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
“…and the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” Revelation 12:4
What is your position? Do you feel the serpent is merely an animal?