To me a serpent is a serpent is a snake. But that is not the case in Genesis. I knew the serpent had a way with words but I never considered that part of his power of persuasion might have been a fearsome appearance or the fact that he directly bypassed the chain of command to strike at a weak link.
|A 17th-century carved depiction of the serpent in the Book of Genesis,|
Stokesay Castle, taken by Nick Hubbard
The serpent is "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." He is described as a great red dragon, with seven crowned heads and ten horns. In the heavenly vision from Revelation, the crowns and horns represent his tremendous power-he is a creature that strikes fear and dread into the souls of mere men. There are several treacherous or intimidating elements in this scene. To begin with, the serpent’s appearance is frightening. Even if he did not appear as the dragon of Revelation, it was certainly not as a common snake. In Hebrew the same word is used for serpent and dragon. It was a frightening figure in Hebrew thought. If you can’t imagine a dragon, picture a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.
Apart from his appearance, the serpent’s presence is intimidating: where did this creature come from? He also is treacherous in his words: he contradicts the only source of knowledge Adam and Eve have, the Creator they know as Father who has been nothing but good to them. And he is intimidating in his method: the snake, as one of the beasts, is presumably under Adam’s dominion. Yet here he is presenting himself as a creature with superior knowledge and information. Not only that, he completely by-passes Adam, who was in charge of the garden, speaking instead to Eve. He appears to be no respecter of authority-a usurper, in fact. Suddenly, things are not as they had seemed.