The Crafty Serpent

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (v. 1).

- Genesis 3:1–5

Satan, the enemy of God and His people, frequently appears in the Old and New Testaments to harm the covenant community, lead people astray, and do what He can to take away from the Lord’s glory. From its beginning (Gen. 3) to its conclusion (Rev. 20:1–10), the Bible is clear that evil is not an impersonal force but the disposition of personal beings — the Devil and his servants.

Yet for all of the descriptions of Satan’s activity in Scripture, especially the Gospels (for example, Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 5:1–20), the Word of God actually gives us little direct information about the adversary’s origin or appearance. The Bible never depicts the Devil with horns and a tail, and it never gives him the name Lucifer, which is based on a Latin translation of Scripture. We do know that he is connected to the heavenly council (Job 1:6), which by inference tells us that he is an angel. But Satan is an angel who has fallen from grace, for he hates the Almighty. Many believe his fall is pictured symbolically in passages like Isaiah 14:12–20 and Ezekiel 28:1–10, but this interpretation is far from certain.

Genesis 3 features the first appearance of Satan in Scripture, telling us how he worked through a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve. The Enemy is called “crafty” (v. 1), which translates the Hebrew word ‘arum. This quality is not itself bad, for the same term is translated “prudent” in Proverbs 12:16. It is an ability to deal with people with subtlety, a quality that can be used for good or, in Satan’s case, evil.

The Devil’s craftiness is seen in that he does not present himself as an adversary; rather, he gets Eve to question God’s goodness. He quizzes Eve in a way that emphasizes what the Lord has forbidden (Gen. 3:1), painting Him as strict and overbearing. Satan could have asked about the blessings God has generously given to mankind, but instead he asks what the Creator has told Eve not to do. Similarly, he intimates that the Lord God is jealous (in a bad way) and out to keep people down for His own sake, without any regard for their well-being (v. 5). Matthew Henry comments, “It is the subtlety of Satan to blemish the reputation of divine law as uncertain or unreasonable, and to draw people to sin.” Today, the Devil employs the very same tactics with us, so let us be careful lest he lead us astray into the violation of our Savior’s will.

Coram Deo

God has bound us to His law in order that we might experience true freedom (James 1:25). Despite what we are told every day, the commandments of the Lord are not given to make us miserable but to show us how to fulfill the purpose for which we were created, which is the only way we can find lasting pleasure. Do you love the law of God? Where have you thought that you know better than Him?

Passages for Further Study

Zechariah 3:1–2
1 Corinthians 10:1–22
2 Corinthians 11:14
James 4:7

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