“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made.” (Genesis 3:1)
“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” (Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Snakes get a bad rap, and rightly so. They’re icky.
Sure, they hold an essential slot in the food chain and fulfill a distinct purpose in the world’s ecosystem. Most of all, God made them. So, at least they’ve got that going for them.
But most people have a terrible gut reaction to the skulking, slithery creatures, and snakes are often depicted as evil incarnate. That’s likely not far from the truth, although the truth is buried in millennia of human history and convoluted mythology.
According to the Bible, a Snake tempted the Woman to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But was it really a snake? Could it have been something else? Scripture tells us clearly who it was – Satan. So, did Satan transform himself into a creature, as Genesis 3:1 seems to imply? Possibly. The Bible tells us supernatural beings can take on human form. Then why not an animal like a snake? What was it about a talking snake that enticed the Couple to disobey God? Or could we be missing a clue that’s buried in the text?
As we’ll see, there’s something about this “snake-like” being that helps unlock the Genesis 3 Fall of humanity event and how it affected the Subdue and Rule Mandate. So let’s examine Satan’s nature and his temptation strategy.
The Fall: Satan’s nature and his temptation strategy
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? The corruption of the Subdue and Rule Mandate came via the Fall because the Man and Woman refused to follow God’s will (His commands), and they broke God’s clearly-spoken Tree Prohibition. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die’” (Genesis 2:16-17). Following God’s will was the Couples’ Prime Directive to their Subdue and Rule Mandate’s proper exercise.
But was their God and King unclear in what He said? Did He mince words? Absolutely not. Even a child can read God’s command and figure out it meant, “Do this and die,” implying, “Don’t do this and keep living.” Obedience seems the obvious choice. So, what led the two proxy rulers to violate their solemn duty to obey their King?
For that, we need to take a close look at the instigator of humanity’s rebellion against God – Satan, the Adversary – and his temptation strategy to bring down humanity and usurp their world rule function to subdue and rule, for his dominion-focused use.
Let’s refresh the discussion. God’s Creation covenant terms were divided into two positive commands and one negative command. The positive commands reflected God’s nature as Creator and Sovereign, and the negative command reflected God’s will. Since humanity was created in the image of God, the two primary functions of God’s image in human beings were to reproduce, make more of God’s images to fill the earth, and rule as God’s image on earth, exercising dominion as vice-regents to expand Eden over the face of the planet. And now for some fun detective work.
The Man knew God as Creator and Sovereign. How? God created the Man at the end of creation and placed him in his designer homestead, the garden (Genesis 2:7-8). But then the Man watched God continue to activate the life He had created on the earth. The Man saw His Creator bring forth the plants from the ground (Genesis. 2:9) but even more impressive, the Man watched His Creator create animals from the ground (Genesis 2:19).
Under his King’s watchful eye, the Man began to exercise his subdue and rule function by naming the animals which God created, an exercise of his God-given authority and power (Genesis 2:19). By watching God during the plant and animal creation process, it’s reasonable to assume the Man had become experientially aware of a critical aspect of God’s nature which placed God above any other being in existence. Only God creates.
To be fair and accurate, the Man didn’t see God create things out of nothing, although plant life springing from under the ground may have seemed so. But the Man did see God create animals and birds by forming them from the ground, the adamah, the same stuff of which the Man was composed. But what about the Woman? Where was she in all of this?
She was in the Man.
While all this wonderful creating and shaping took place, she didn’t exist. See the previous Splitting the Adam and the Nuclear Family to review her creation. My point is the Woman hadn’t seen God demonstrate His creative powers as the Man did. Neither had she heard God’s Tree Prohibition command to the Man. Apparently, the Man must have repeated his experience and divine restriction to her. She only had second-hand knowledge of God’s creative ability and command. However, since the Woman was formed from the Man (her federal head), she was equally responsible for the Tree Prohibition term of the Creation covenant. Again, she only had second-hand knowledge of God and His Prime Directive.
This lack of first-hand knowledge about God became Satan’s point of attack.
So, who is this Satan guy, what was his strategy, and why did it work?
To begin with, I don’t believe humanity’s Fall came via a talking snake. Dr. Michael Heiser’s work Unseen Realm reveals excellent insights into what happened. Let’s look at Satan’s strategy first.
Genesis 3:1 gives us a clue about the “serpent’s” tactic. In that verse, God is called YHVH (Yehovah) Elohim. Dr. Heiser makes a case for a class of elohim, supernatural beings or “gods,” who were created by God and serve as God’s divine council. They’re not angels, although “angels” (God’s messengers and warriors) are a subset of the elohim, defined relative to function rather than nature. These elohim populate the spiritual realm. Therefore, since Eden was where God and humanity walked together (Genesis 3:8), God’s elohim would also have access to Eden.
Before we go further, I need to give you some Hebrew language background. Hebrew is a consonantal language which means up until the A.D. 600s, Hebrew was written with just consonants. For example, if we wrote “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart” as Hebrew did, it would read like this: “Lv th Lrd Yr Gd wth ll yr hrt.” The obvious difficulty with that is that vowels often distinguish similar words from each other. However, knowing the language as it was spoken makes it much easier to understand what was written. Since ancient times, the Jewish Sages took great pains to memorize the Hebrew scriptures, so God’s word would be “taught and taken” – taught by the teachers and taken into a person’s life to guide them in God’s righteous ways.
In the A.D. 600s, a group of scribes in Tiberius known as the Masoretes developed vowel markings (dots and dashes called vowel pointing) to make the Hebrew text clear and easier to read. Hebrew4Christians.com says, “Since these scribes did not want to alter the consonantal text, they placed the markings under, to the left, and over the Hebrew letters” (hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_Two/Introduction/introduction.html). Hebrew words are generally built on a tri-consonantal base, meaning three consonants form the base word. A word is expanded with other letters to create different words or indicate grammar. Now that you know this Hebrew grammar geek stuff, we can see what or who this serpent is in the garden.
Dr. Heiser points out the translation of “serpent” (nachash) is related to the word nechosheth (“bronze” or “copper”), which is derived from the Hebrew three consonant noun n-ch-sh. “The option is interesting because copper and bronze become shiny when polished. In fact, the Old Testament uses nechosheth to describe divine beings (Daniel 10:6) (Heiser, italics author).” Dr. Heiser concludes that the serpent is not a literal animal but one of God’s many elohim that had access to Eden, God’s holy place on earth, the sacred space of Eden, as Beale puts it.
The Bible tells us that supernatural beings often glow bright white or like fire unless they’ve taken on a purely human likeness. A seraph (Isaiah 6:2) means “fiery” or “serpent.” Would God have snakes around His throne? No. Would His absolutely holy, supernatural beings shine bright like fire? Undoubtedly, yes. That makes more sense in context. Other supernatural beings that attend to God’s throne are cherubs, likely shining brightly or like fire as well. When Jesus revealed His spiritual nature to His disciples at the Transfiguration, “his face shone like the sun; his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2), and when God’s kingdom comes to the earth in fullness, everything will blaze with light. “Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). John wrote, “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him” (1 John 1:5). Yes, this is about spiritual revelation, but it also applies to physical light.
So what makes more sense based on the Hebrew words, a divine being or a talking snake?
However, the Hebrew is clever. Because the root of “shining” and “snake” is the same, other Bible writers and Sages made the connection. Who was this shining being, this “snake” in the grass? “But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning…” (Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:3) and “that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan” (Apostle John, Revelation 20:2 and 12:9 ).
These elohim, lesser spiritual beings, accompanied the Elohim of all elohim, so designated by the specific title in Genesis 3:1, Yehovah Elohim. This title distinguishes God from all His creations, both natural and spiritual, just as His nature as Creator sets Him apart from His creation. Let me put it this way. Within the multitude of companies in the United States, there are many presidents. But there’s only one capital “P” President of the United States. In the beginning, there were many elohim, but only ONE Elohim of all Elohim. He is Yehovah Elohim.
Therefore, when the Man and the Woman encountered the shiny creature at the Tree, they came face to face with an elohim, later identified as Ha Satan (hah’-sah-tahn’), the Adversary. Let’s be clear. Satan is just another one of God’s creations, a supernatural one, and there is no spiritual or human being in God’s class. Yehovah Elohim is the One and Only, unique because He existed before creation and is the only being who can create something out of nothing.
Why is this important? Because when the nachash tempted the Woman to break God’s covenant terms, he first demoted God to her.
Genesis 3:1 refers to God as LORD God (Yehovah Elohim). In the second half of the verse, when the nachash referred to God, he only used elohim, “He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say’…”. Likewise, the nachash uses the downgraded term for God throughout the rest of the account (Dumbrell). Satan demoted the Creator, Yehovah Elohim, to the created elohim status before he suggested to the Woman that she could rise to elohim status. In other words, “All of us supernatural beings are the same, and you can be like us if…”.
Since the Woman didn’t know God in His unique nature as Creator, she accepted this demotion as she used the nachash’s term elohim rather than God’s term, Yehovah Elohim, by saying, “But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said…” (Genesis 3:3).
This change is a big deal! God’s demotion via the nachash’s verbal shenanigans began the breakdown of God’s authority in the Woman’s mind and the undermining of His command, which followed. Moreover, the nachash presented himself as the “image” to which the Woman should aspire, not God. “(T)he tempter is a rival evil being and knows what good and evil is, for he knows it will bring further insight. The humans’ eyes will be opened, meaning, as in Deuteronomy 4:6, further knowledge of divine will and wisdom” (Dumbrell).
God’s demotion and the possibility of raising herself via obtaining special knowledge was a subtle way of introducing autonomy to humanity. In essence, the nachash said, “God is not so different from all of us, and you could become so much more than you are now, even more equal in nature to this Elohim. What’s stopping you?”
The correct answer should have been “Yehovah Elohim’s word, His Tree Prohibition command.”
The foundation of the Creation covenant was obeying God’s dominion. The foundation of God’s dominion was obeying His will as established through His moral law defined by the covenant terms. The nachash enticed the Woman to break the key term of the covenant, the autonomy test case – obedience – which, if broken, would affect the other two commands by making the Couple exercise their wills rather than God’s will.
The Woman appeared to know this critical command, but as shown earlier, this command was given when she was “in” the Man, before she was separated from him as an independent being. Therefore, she didn’t have first-hand knowledge of God’s Tree Prohibition as the Man did. Nonetheless, she was still accountable to God for obedience to it since the Man was her federal head.
And now comes the second part of the nachash’s strategy that led to the Fall.
It was through that lack of first-hand knowledge of God’s word that the nachash targeted the Woman. When he first confronted her, the nachash demoted God in her mind, thus undermining God’s moral authority. Next, he downgraded God’s command to a statement, thus undermining God’s command (Dumbrell). In Genesis 2:16, God issued the Tree Prohibition as a command (tzavah), not a statement or suggestion. The nachash reframed God’s command into a statement, “Did Elohim really say (amar)?” rather than “Did Elohim really command (tzavah)?”
It’s fascinating to note that in this talk between the nachash and the Woman, all references to God’s verbal expression is the word amar. Thus, it becomes a debate over what God “said,” thus lowering God’s command to the same level as the nachash’s or the woman’s word. This strategy undercut and removed God’s authority and raised the others’ authority to God’s level.
In response to the nachash’s question, the Woman’s telling response revealed her weakness. She stated, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:2-3, italics author). This change of the original command reveals the fatal flaw the nachash exploited.
God’s command to the Man was, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Notice there’s no prohibition from touching the infamous Tree as the Woman claims. So, the question arises about where she came up with the add-on to God’s command. It wouldn’t have come from God because He would have said the exact words to her as He had commanded the Man. And the text shows it wasn’t from the nachash. It can only have originated with the Man or the Woman.
The most reasonable conclusion points to the Man and his Subdue and Rule Mandate, his drive to control. The Man’s dominion drive was already operational since it was hard-wired into his nature. After all, God created humanity to rule (Genesis 1:26) on His behalf. The Man had already demonstrated his dominion, exercising it by naming the animals and birds under God’s watchful eye.
So what happened with the Tree Prohibition between the Woman’s creation and the nachash’s temptation?
Here’s my take on it. No, it’s not spelled out in Genesis 1-2, but in the next part, I’ll detail why this is most likely. It’s possible that the Man exercised dominion by setting additional, man-made parameters for the Couple to comply with God’s Tree Prohibition. After all, absolute obedience was a matter of life or death. Here is how I put it previously:
“(The Man) relayed their King’s warning to her. ‘He said we can’t eat from that Tree. All the other plants are allowed. If we disobey God,’ he said with a serious tone, ‘and eat of the Tree, there’s some sort of super serious punishment we’ll get, and it doesn’t sound good at all. Tell you what. If we don’t even touch it, then we certainly won’t eat from it as God commanded, right? So let’s make that our rule. No touch-y, no eat-y. Okay?’ The Woman enthusiastically nodded in agreement.”
The Couple received the two positive commands directly from God (Genesis 1:28). Having heard these two commands, they could have stood united against any doubt cast on the Tree Prohibition. Plus, because of the death penalty attached to the Prime Directive, it was vital for the Woman to know and understand the critical negative command. Therefore, I suggest the Man relayed the command verbally to his perfect counterpart, but he didn’t convey it accurately. In transmission, the human-originated “Do not touch!” order was attached to the God-originated “Do not eat!” command. What was intended to help became the touchpoint for temptation.
To be fair, the Woman could have come up with the addendum on her own. But given the Man’s blasé reaction after the Woman touched the fruit, I think the above theory is the closest. While the addendum didn’t violate the Tree Prohibition, there was something about “not touching the fruit,” which created the opportunity for the nachash to make his case against God’s word.
So, when the Woman touched the fruit and didn’t die as the Couple had determined, maybe that demoted “God” was wrong about the fruit-eating death penalty as well? Since the Tree was part of the Couple’s domain, why couldn’t they go ahead and sample the tempting treat?
This self-determination is humanity’s problem and source of our demise – doubting God’s inerrant word in favor of our word. If we don’t hold to God’s perfect word, then we position ourselves for a fall by violating God’s will, intentionally or not.
While the Man and Woman tried to “help God out” by adding to His command, they actually set themselves up for an enemy attack with devastating, eternity-effecting consequences. In the next part, we’ll look at how to handle God’s word properly and what drove the Couple to add to His command.
Beale, Gregory K. Garden Temple.
Christianson, Dr. Jay S., An Exploration into God’s Subdue and Rule Mandate for Humanity in Genesis 1:28: Its Origin, Corruption, Repercussions, And Eschatological Restoration in the New Covenant.
Dumbrell, William J. Covenant and Creation, An Old Testament Covenant Theology, and The End of the Beginning, Revelations 21-22 and the Old Testament.
Heiser, Michael S., The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts