Why Does Genesis Portray Satan As an Ancient Serpent?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Creation Answer Book (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012)
Get the Book

The Bible describes Satan as a twisted serpent whom God alone can crush. The metaphor is pregnant with meaning.

First, the biblical imagery of the twisted serpent is a masterful portrayal of Satan’s fall. Once he held a privileged position in God’s kingdom, but now he is even lower than the livestock. They have legs. He, however, crawls on his belly and eats dust. Those who know the Old Testament immediately recognize the metaphor. Micah, like Moses, uses the imagery of a serpent to depict the nations seeking to thwart the purposes of God: “They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground” (7:17).

Furthermore, Moses’ original audience was intimately acquainted with the imagery of the serpent. During their sojourn in the desert, the lethal venom of fiery serpents had been emblazoned upon the tablet of their consciousness. Likewise, they would ever remember the bronzed serpent Moses lifted up in the Arabah* (Numbers 21:4–9). As the bronzed serpent was an image without venom, so the image of the invisible God who came in the appearance of sinful flesh was without sin. Thus, the serpent was not just emblematic of seduction, but the exemplar of a Savior who would die so that we may live (John 3:14–15).

Finally, the imagery of a serpent is employed by Scripture as literary subversion* of pagan myth. Though Baal, who according to the Ugaritic texts (pre-Jewish texts of the ancient Canaanites), rides the clouds and smites the primordial seven-headed serpent lying coiled in the chaotic waters, in reality it is Yahweh, Creator of heaven and earth, who alone can crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). In sum, the Bible uses the pagan imagery of a serpent as a powerful theological apologetic by which to undress gods of wood and stone that are impotent to save.

In that day,
the Lord will punish with his sword,
his fierce, great and powerful sword,
Leviathan the gliding serpent,
Leviathan the coiling serpent;
he will slay the monster of the sea.

Isaiah 27:1

More Bible Answers with Hank

Will the Created Cosmos Be Resurrected or Annihilated?

How Can the Eternal Son of God Be the “Firstborn over All Creation”?

Will Adam and Eve Receive Brand-New Bodies in Eternity?

Do Naturalists Consider Chance the Singular Cause of Evolution?

Why Did Heliocentrism Triumph over Geocentrism?

MENU