The "old serpent", the second animal of this verse, first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?""
The serpent, viper, adder, asp, basilisk, arrow snake or cobra we know today is mentioned forty-nine times in the Bible, even allegorically. It is still common throughout the world, in a surprising number of varieties, and is used as an object of worship or simple symbol, it appears in mythology through the ages, in legends and stories. There are few people who have never seen or heard of a snake. It appears in the majority of spoken and written vocabularies.
In Hebrew the serpent is called "na^cha^sh", “shephi^ypho^n”, “pethen”, “nashak", “tsepha?”, “tsiph?o^ni^y” and in Greek it is "ophis", “echidna”, "herpeton." Over forty species are found in Syria and Arabia. Isaiah speaks of a "flying serpent" ("Saraf uf") (Isaiah 14:29, 30:6). Symbolically a mortal, subtle and sly enemy, is called a snake (Luke 10:19).
The "old serpent" took a position that made it prominent among all the animals that God had created, for "it was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made" (Genesis 3:1). So it had a decisive influence on the nature and destiny of human beings, and with them, all creation. Everything was very good before that "old serpent" intervened, but then came the curse of God upon it and its offspring, along with all creation.
The Bible does not describe how the "old serpent" looked like when it stood before Eve. It was probably like a big lizard, as it is called “dragon” not only in Revelation 20:2 but also in Isaiah 27:1, and one of the punishments it received from God was to go on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life… In view of the magnificent drawings in colour on the body of most existing serpents found today, its descendants, it is not improbable that the "old serpent" was also a flashy animal, covered with coloured scales forming beautiful designs.
Beautiful and captivating, this "old serpent" had no difficulty in communicating with Eve in the Garden of Eden, and of convincing her of the lie that it told her. A talking animal? Except for the parrot, which can repeat what it hears but without understanding it, no other animal we know today can communicate with us in this way. Nevertheless, at that time the "old serpent" spoke and Eve understood. When punished and transformed into the animal we know today, it lost that ability and we know the only sound it and its descendants since then produce is nothing but a hiss and, in the case of the rattlesnake a rattle at the tip of its tail.
After the event reported in chapter 3 of Genesis the word "serpent" and others applied to the same animal appear several times, some in connection with its bites, its venom and its forked tongue, illustrating the fulfilment of the destiny that God gave to the relationship between it and the woman: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15). The first time it appears again is in Genesis 49:17 "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider shall fall backward". In this prophecy of Jacob the snake is used as a symbol of those who indirectly act maliciously to harm someone. It was the tribe of Dan which introduced idolatry that eventually destroyed the nation of Israel.
God sometimes made use of snakes: Aaron's rod turned into a serpent to impress the Pharaoh of Egypt with a miracle (Exodus 7:10); He sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit and many people of Israel died (Numbers 21:6); He then commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it on a pole so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed (Numbers 21:8).
The Lord Jesus mentioned serpents several times: He recommended the disciples to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16); He called the scribes and Pharisees of His time "serpents, brood of vipers" because of their hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:29-33). Perhaps most famously He used the bronze serpent made by Moses and raised on a pole as an example of how He would also be raised so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14).
These observations on this animal lead us to conclude that while it is harmful because of its aggressive nature, its unexpected attacks and its deadly poison, resulting from the curse pronounced upon it in Eden, it does not personify the devil or Satan.
Also the "ancient serpent", a kind of "dragon", was only an instrument used by that enemy of God to deceive Eve so that she and her husband after her would be tempted into disobeying the order that God had given them. That Satan was the tempter and used the old serpent just as his instrument is evident:
The "old serpent" was "more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made." It was just a beast of the field, but the most cunning of all and did the work of the adversary trying to jeopardize the masterpiece of creation. (The word "adversary" is the correct translation into English of the Hebrew "satan." The Hebrew word continues appearing in translations of the Bible into English to indicate the greatest adversary of God, a rebel angel).
Eve vainly sought to justify herself for her disobedience to the commandment of God, saying, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Genesis 3:13). But God did not totally exempt the "old serpent" of guilt. The punishment the "old serpent" received from God was the humiliation of crawling on the floor, being cursed among all cattle and wild beasts, and its descendants becoming enemies of the seed of the woman.
The biblical account of the "old serpent" is not just a parable, or allegorical fiction as some like to think. The Bible tells us in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3 "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" If the report was not a fact, it cannot serve as an example.
All lying and deception is doing the work of the adversary, who is "the father of lies" as the Lord Jesus teaches us (John 8:44). The Bible tells us: "Lying lips are abomination to the LORD" and "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Proverbs 12:22 and Revelation 21:8).
The experience Eve had with the malignancy of the "old serpent" serves as a warning to us against the "human serpents", which also appear beautiful and persuasive and lead us away from God's path to disobey His will. It will be a disaster for us if our minds are corrupted by them “from the simplicity that is in Christ” and the pure devotion to Christ.
Let us always be attached to the truth, the Word of God, to escape the possibility of being used by the Adversary to disseminate his lies, theories without foundation in fact and false interpretations of what the Bible says. These are so abundant today and contribute for unbelievers not to obtain the salvation of their souls by the only path that God has opened: faith in the redemptive work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.