The Serpent of Genesis 3




Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Genesis 3 we have neither allegory, (Allegory is a device used to present an idea, principle or meaning) myth, legend, nor fable, but literal historical facts set forth, and emphasised by the use of certain Figures of speech. (See Ap 6)

All the confusion of thought and conflicting exegesis (is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text), have arisen from taking literally, what is expressed by Figures, or from taking figuratively what is literal.

A Figure of speech is never used except for the purpose of calling attention to, emphasising, and intensifying, the reality of the literal sense, and the truth of the historical facts; so that, while the words employed may not be so strictly true to the letter, they are all the more true to the truth conveyed by them, and to the historical events connected with them.

But for the figurative language of verses 14 &15 no one would have thought of referring the third chapter of Genesis to a snake: no more than he does when reading the third chapter from the end of Revelation (ch 2 0:2). Indeed, the explanation added there, that the “old Serpent” is the Devil and Satan, would immediately lead one to connect the word “old” with the earlier form and former mention of the serpent in Genesis 3:  and the fact that it was satan himself who tempted the “second man”, “the last Adam”, would force the conclusion that no other than the personal Satan could have been the tempter “of the first man adam”.

The Hebrew word rendered “serpent” in Genesis 3:1 Nāchāsh (from the root Nāchāsh to shine), and means a shining one. Hence, in Chaldee it means brass or copper, because of its shining. Hence, also the word Nehushtāna piece of brass, in 2 Kings 18:4.

In the same way Serāph, in Isaiah 6:26 means a burning one, and, because the serpents mentioned in Numbers 21 were burning, in the poison of their bite, they were called Saraphim or Seraphs.


Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

Serpent. Hebrew Nāchāsh, a shining one.

See note on Numbers 21:6 Fiery serpents = burning. Hebrew nacheshіīm serāphīm. (Of effect) because, the effect of the bite was a burning sensation.

Hebrew Serāph. The Seraphim so called in Isaiah 6;2, because they were burning ones: hence the name for these serpents. In the same way nāchāsh, shining one, is also used for serpents, because they are shining ones in appearance.

The old serpent: 2 Corinthians 11:3.But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

Transformed as an “angel of light” (a glorious angel)

2 Corinthians 11:14. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

Cp Ezekiel 28: 14, 17.

14. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.

The anointed cherub that covereth: Cherub can be used only of a supernatural being, overshadowing, and protecting “the world that then was” (2 Peter 3:6), or the garden of verse 13.

17. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness.

Hast corrupted: didst corrupt. When this took place, we are not told. It was before Genesis 3:1: and the only time seems to have been between verses 1 &2 of Gen 1, and may have been the cause of the overthrow.

Connected with “Cherub”

Ezekiel 28:13, 16

13. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou was created.

In Eden: Here is no evidence of a “legend”, but a reality. Satan, the Nāchāsh or shining one, was there. Eve was smitten with his beauty as “an angel of light” and deferred to him as one possessing this “wisdom”, and believed his power to make good his promise.

Garden of God: This is added to leave us in no doubt as to what is meant by Eden, and to show that it was no mere “summer residence” of the prince of Tyre, but the “garden” of Genesis 2:8—15.

Thou wast created: Not begotten by man, or born of woman. This can refer only to Satan.

16. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned:

     therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

Subtil = wise

If the Ellipsis (Ap. 6. iii. 1) be supplied from the preceding context, Verse 3:1 will then read on from 2:25 thus: (“They were both naked  (`arum) , the man and his wife, [and knowing only good 2:17] were not ashamed [before God]. But the Nāchāsh was more wise (`arum) than any living being of the field which Jehovah Elohim had made, and [knowing evil, and not ashamed (2:25) to question the truth of God’s word] he said unto the woman,” &c.


2 Kings 18:4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

Brasen serpent Cp Numbers 21:9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass he lived.

Serpent = Hebrew nāchāsh, a shining thing of brass, as in Deut 8:15, 2 Kings 18:4 &c: so that nāchāsh is synonymous with sarāph, and both words are thus used of serpent.

Nehushtan = A brass thing.

.But when the LORD said unto Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent” (Num 21:8), He said, “Make thee a sārāph”, and, in obeying this command, we read in verse 9, “Moses made a Nāchāsh of brass”. Nāchāsh is thus used as being interchangeable with Sārāph. 

Now, if Sārāph is used of a serpent because its bite was burning, and is also used of a celestial or spirit being (a burning one), why should not Nāchāsh be used of a serpent because its appearance was shining, and be also used of a celestial or spirit-being (a shining one)?

Indeed, a reference to the structure of Genesis 3 (on page 7) will show that the Cherubim (which are similar celestial or spirit-beings) of the last verse;


Genesis 3:24 So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Drove out: Note the failure of man under every dispensation.

Placed: Hebrew shākan, to place in a tabernacle, hence to dwell. The Cherubim placed later in the tents of Shem Gen 9:26-27. Cp Gen 4:3,7, 14, 16.

Cherubim Ap 41. 1 Sam 44, Ps 80:1, & 99:1.

Every way: Hebrew haphuk (every way), effectually preserving the way. See Stars Also

Keep: See not on Genesis 2:15 = preserve so that man should not “live for ever” in his fallen condition, but only in Christ.

1 John 5: 11-12.

11.  And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

12. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

Tree of life. See note on Gen 2:9 = The Tree supporting and continuing the life which had been imparted. Compare Gen 3:22. Hence the “bread of life”.

Requires a similar spirit-being to correspond with them in the first verse (for the structure of the whole chapter is a great Introversion) (Virtually all comprehensive models of personality include these concepts in various forms). The Nāchāsh, or serpent, who beguiled Eve…

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means,  as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

…is spoken of as an “angel of light” in verse 14. Have we not, in this, a clear intimation that it was not a snake, but a glorious shining being, apparently an angel, to whom Eve paid great deference, acknowledging him as one who seemed to possess superior knowledge, and was evidently a being of a superior (not of an inferior) order? Moreover, in the description of Satan as “the King of Tyre” it is distinctly implied that the latter being was of a supernatural order when he is called “a cherub”.


Ezekiel 28:14-16, read from verse (11-19).

14. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.

The anointed cherub that covereth: Cherub can be used only of a supernatural being, overshadowing and protecting “the world that then was” (2 Peter 3:6), or the garden of verse 13.

15. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created,

    till iniquity was found in thee.

Perfect…created. Referring to the period before Satan’s fall.

16. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned:

     therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

Merchandise = traffic, or going about, as in verse 18. Hence, it meant calumniator (slanderer), in a moral sense.


His presence “in Eden, the garden of ‘Elohim” (Verse 13), is also clearly stated, as well as his being “perfect in beauty” (v12), his being “perfect in his ways from the day he was created till iniquity was found in him” (v15), and as being “lifted up because of his beauty” (v17).

These all compel the belief that Satan was the shining one (Nāchāsh) In Genesis 3, and especially because the following words could be addressed to him:--“ “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee” (v17).

Even supposing that these things were spoken to, and of, an exalted human being in later days (in Ezek 28), still “the king of Tyre” is not compared to a being who was non-existent; and facts and circumstances which never happened are not introduced into the comparison. There is more about the “king of Tyre” in Ezekiel 28:11-19 than was literally true of the “prince of Tyre” (v1-10). The words can be understood only of the mightiest and most exalted supernatural being that God ever created; and this for the purpose of showing how great would be his fall.. The history must be true to make the prophecy of any weight.

Again, the word rendered “subtle” in Gen 3:1 (see note) means wise, in a good sense as well as in a bad sense.

1.     In Ezekiel 28:12 we have the good sense, “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom”;

2.     And the bad sense in (v17), “thou hast corrupted thy wisdom” (referring of course to his fall).

So the word rendered “subtle” is rendered “prudent” in Proverbs 1:4; 8:12; 12:23; 14:8; and in a bad sense in Job 15;5; 1 Sam 23:22; Psalms 83;3.

The word “beast” also, in Gen 3:1, chay, denotes a living being, and it is as wrong to translate zōa “beasts” in Rev. 4, as it is to translate chay Beast in

Gen 3. Both mean living creature. Satan is thus spoken of as being “more wise than any other living creature which Jehovah Elohim had made”

Even if the word” beast” be retained, it does not say that either a serpent or Satan was a “beast”, but only that he was “more wise” than any other living being. We cannot conceive Eve as holding converse with a snake, but we can understand her being fascinated by one, apparently “an angel of light” (i.e. a glorious angel), possessing superior and supernatural knowledge. When Satan is spoken of as a “serpent”, it is the figure Hypocatastasis (see Ap 6) or implication; it no more means a snake than it does when Dan is so called in Genesis 49:17; or an animal when Nero is called a lion (2 Tim 4:17); or when Herod is called a “fox” (Luke 13:32); or when Judah is called “a lion’s whelp”. It is the same figure when “doctrine” is called “leaven” (Matt 16:6). It shows that something much more real and truer to truth is intended. If a figure of speech is thus employed, it is for the purpose of expressing the truth more impressively; and is intended to be a figure of something much more real than the letter of the word.

Other figures of speech are used in verse 14, & 15, but only for the same purpose of emphasising the truth and the reality of what is said. When it is said in verse 15, “thou shalt bruise his heel”, it cannot mean His literal heel of flesh and blood, but suffering, more temporary in character. When it is said, “ (verse 15) “He shall crush thy head”, it means something more than a skull of bone, and brain, and hair. It means that all Satan’s plans and plots, policy and purpose, will one day be finally crushed and ended, never more to mar or hinder the purposes of God. This will be effected when Satan shall be bruised under our feet Romans 16:20. This again will not be our literal feet, but something much more real.

The bruising of Christ’s heel is the most eloquent and impressive way of foretelling the most solemn events; and to point out that the effort made by Satan  to evade his doom, then threatened, would become the very means of insuring its  accomplishment; for it was through the death of Christ that he who had the power of death would be destroyed; and all Stan’s power and policy brought to an end, and all his works destroyed (Heb 2:14. 1 John 3:8. Rev 20: 1-3, 10). What literal words could portray these literal facts so wonderfully as these expressive Figures of speech?


Romans 16:20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

The grace &c: Each one of Paul’s Epilogues ends, with a benedictory prayer that “grace” may be with churches and individuals alike.


Heb 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil

Flesh and blood: In Hebrews flesh is never used in the moral sense of Rom 7:18, but always of natural body.

The same: The same (things), i.e. flesh and blood, not the same flesh and blood, which had become corrupted by Adam’s sin. “This same Jesus” was a direct creation of God.

Cp Luke 1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy Thing Which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

That holy Thing: See Hebrews 7:26, 1 Peter 2:22.

Note on Matthew 27:4 Saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? see thou to that.”

What…&c: Ignoring both the Lord’s innocence and Judas’s guilt.

Destroy see Luke 13:7 Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, `Behold these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?

These three years: Can refer only to the period of the Lord’s ministry. The texts add aph’ hou = from which, or since (three years).

Cumbereth: = (To render useless; to make vain). Cumbereth in the ground = injureth the soil also.


1 John 3:8 He that commiteth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.

                 For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.


Rev 20: 1-3, 10

01. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

02. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.

03. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

10.  And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15). The Serpent of bronze in Numbers 21 is a well-known image for Christians because of its use by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus discussed his destiny with a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus by referencing a passage in Chukat of the Torah. Jesus gave a direct comparison between the raising up of the Son of Man and the act of the Mosaic serpent being raised up.

It is the same with the other Figures used in (verse 14), “On thy belly thou shalt go”. This Figure means infinitely more than the literal belly of flesh and blood; just as the words “heel” and “head” do in (verse 15). It paints for the eyes of our mind the picture of Satan’s ultimate humiliation; for prostration was ever the most eloquent sign of subjection. When it is said “our belly cleaveth unto the ground” Psalm 44:25, it denotes such a long prostration and such a depth of submission as could ever be expressed in literal words.

So with the other prophecy, “Dust shalt thou eat”. This is not true to the letter, or to fact, but it is all the more true to truth. It tells of constant, continuous disappointment, failure, and mortification; as when deceitful ways are spoken of as feeding on deceitful food, which is “sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth shall be filled with gravel” (Proverbs 20:17). This does not mean literal “gravel”, but something far more disagreeable. It means disappointment so great that it would be gladly exchanged for the literal “gravel”. So when Christians are rebuked for “biting and devouring one another” (Galatians 3:14-15), something more heart breaking is meant than the literal words used in the Figure.


John 3:14-15

14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

Must: It behoved to, in order to fulfill the prophetic Scripture.

15. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.


Psalm 44:25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust:

                   Our belly cleaveth unto the earth.


Proverbs 20:17 Bread of deceit is sweet to a man;

                        But afterward his mouth is filled with gravel.


Galatians 3:14-15

14. That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

15. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man dissanulleth, or addeth thereto.


When “His enemies shall lick the dust” (Psalms 72:9) they will not do it on there knees with their literal tongues; but they will be so prostrated and so utterly defeated, that no words could literally their overthrow and subjugation.

If a serpent was afterward called a nāchāsh, it was because it was more shining than any other creature; and if it became known as “wise”, it was not because of its own innate positive knowledge, but of its wisdom in hiding away from all observation; and because of its association  with one of the names of Satan (that old serpent) who “beguiled Eve”


Psalms 72:9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him;

                   And his enemies shall lick the dust.


2 Corinthians 11: 3, 14

03.  But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

14. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.


It is wonderful how a snake could ever be supposed to speak without the organs of speech, or that Satan should be supposed able to accomplish so great a miracle.

It only shows the power of tradition, which has, from the infancy of each one of us, put before our eyes and written on our minds the picture of a “snake” and an “apple”; the former based on a wrong interpretation, and the latter being a pure invention, about which there is not one word said in Holy Scripture.

Never was Satan’s wisdom so craftily used as when he secured universal acceptance of this traditional belief: for it has succeeded in fixing the attention of mankind on the letter and the means, and thus blinding the eyes to the solemn fact that that the Fall of man had to do solely with the Word of God, and is centered  in the sin of believing Satan’s lie instead of Jehovah’s truth. 

The temptation of “the first man Adam” began with the question “Hath God said?” The temptation of the second man, the Lord from heaven” began with the similar question “If Thou be the Son of God”, when the voice of the Father had scarcely away, which said, “This is My beloved Son”.

All turned on the truth of what Jehovah had said, The Word of God being questioned, led Eve, in her reply,

1.     To omit the word freely (Gen 3:2; Compare 2:16) then;

2.     to add the words  “neither shalt thou touch it” (Gen 3:3; Compare 2:17); and finally,

3.     to alter a certainty into a contingency by changing “thou SHALT SURELY die”  (Gen2:17) into LEST ye die” (Gen 3:3)

It is not without significance that the first Ministerial words of “the second Man  were “It is written”, three times repeated; and that His last Miniserial words contained a similar threefold reference to the written word of God.


John 17:8 For I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me.


John 14:7 If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.


The former temptation succeeded because the Word of God was three times misrepresented; the latter temptation was successfully defeated because the same Word was faithfully repeated.

The history of Gen 3 is intended to teach us the fact that Satan’s sphere of activities is in the religious sphere, and not the spheres of crime or immorality; that his battlefield is not the sins arising from human depravity, but the unbelief of the human heart. We are not to look for Satan’s activities to-day in the newspaper press, or the police courts; but in the pulpit and professors chairs. Wherever the Word of God is called in question, there we see the trail of “that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan”. This is why anything against the true interests of the Word God (as being such) finds a ready admission into the newspapers of the world, and is treated as “general literature”. This is why anything in favour of its inspiration and Divine  origin and its spiritual truth is rigidly excluded as being “controversial”.

This is why Satan is quite content that the letter of Scripture should be accepted in Gen 3, as he himself accepted the letter of; Psalm 91:11 He himself could say ”it is written” (Matt 4:6) so long the letter of what is “written” could be put instead of the truth that is conveyed by it; and so long as it is misquoted or misapplied.

This is his object in perpetuating the traditions of the “snake” and the “apple”, because it administers to the acceptance of his lie, the hiding of God’s truth, the support of tradition, the jeers of the infidel, the opposition of the critics, and the stumbling of the weak in faith.



1 It is remarkable that the verb nāchash always means to enchant, fascinate, bewitch, or of one having or using occult knowledge.

See Gen 30:27; 44:5, 15. Lev 19:26. Deut 18:10. 1 Kings 20:33. 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6. 2 Chron 33:6. So also is the noun used in Num 23:23; 24:1.