Published: 8 March 2021

Why Was The Serpent In The Garden?

One of the most common questions we ask about the story of the garden of Eden is, “How did an evil being get into God’s perfect garden?” It’s a fair question, but one the Bible never answers. 

In fact, the events of Genesis 3 leave us with a lot of unanswered questions. Who was the serpent? Was the serpent a real animal which was used by a spiritual being, or something else? Did Eve not think it odd that an animal could talk? What was the serpent’s motivation? Why did he trick Eve? What was in it for him? Why would the Bible leave us hanging like this without answers?

While these may be questions that seem important, God didn’t think it was important for us to have these answers. God wants to redirect our attention to what He did say. In other words, who the snake was isn’t important, what’s important is what he did. How an animal could speak wasn’t nearly as important as what the animal said, and so forth. These ambiguities should prompt us to recognize that the author wants to focus our attention elsewhere. Where is the author leading us?

The Bible is Jewish meditation literature

While we need to pay special attention to where the text points us, there is more to consider. It is no accident that these questions are left unanswered. Am I saying God was intentionally vague about these matters? Yes, I am suggesting exactly that. Why would God leave these gaps in the story? To make us curious which causes us to think.

The Bible is ancient Jewish meditation literature and the whole point is to cause us to meditate upon the possibilities. When we meditate upon the Scriptures the stories shape and influence us in ways we do not immediately recognize.

One thing we must recognize is that since the Bible doesn’t answer these questions, our speculation about them doesn’t constitute real answers! Our meditation and speculation are thought experiments and whatever notions they produce are not definitive. Therefore, we cannot be dogmatic about the possible explanations that our pondering produces. With that in mind, let’s meditate on some of these questions. 

Who was the snake?

Almost everyone would say that the snake was Satan. However, Genesis never reveals the serpent’s identity. As a matter of fact, nowhere in the entire Bible is his identity revealed. There are hints that it was indeed the Devil, but we don’t have a clear cut statement in the Scriptures which says “the serpent in the garden was Satan.” Therefore, while we can’t say with 100% certainty it was the Devil, it’s very safe to assume it was him or a spiritual being acting on his behalf.

Why was the snake in the garden?

From our perspective it seems odd that God would allow an evil being into the garden which was the Holy of Holies of His cosmic temple. The Bible reveals that God is surrounded by a heavenly host of spiritual beings and it seems that some of these beings were not happy with the way things were going:

The world you experience was created by an all-powerful God; human beings are his created representatives; Eden was his abode; he was accompanied by a supernatural host; one member of that divine entourage was not pleased by God’s decisions to create humanity and give them dominion. All that leads to how humanity got into the mess it’s in.[1]Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 74). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.

Satan was in the garden because He was a part of God’s heavenly host of spiritual beings which are referred to elsewhere as God’s divine council (Psa 82:1). When did Satan first sin? Allow me to offer a hypothesis: Satan’s fall happened simultaneously with Adam and Eve’s. 

Learning new facts and information from the Bible is important and is one success factor, but it is not the only one. Success is also measured by how well you have reflected upon an ambiguity in the text. When such meditation occurs the story shapes and influences us in ways we do not immediately recognize. This meditation upon the text is exactly what the author wanted to happen.

Conceivably, Satan resented that God had given these weak mortal humans dominion over creation. He saw them as rivals to be removed and He counted on God’s sense of justice to deal with them if they rebelled. Perhaps Satan’s very first sin was to trick Eve into disobeying God. If that were the case it would explain Satan’s presence in the garden. He was allowed to be there because he had not yet become mankind’s nemesis. 

We could further speculate that God would not allow Satan, nor any other spiritual being, to eliminate mankind. Therefore, Satan attempted to devise a plan which would obligate God to do it for him knowing that a just and righteous God could not let Adam and Eve’s disobedience go unanswered. God, of course, wasn’t falling for Satan’s trick.

Why didn’t Eve seem to be surprised by a talking snake?

Some scholars have surmised that since God’s divine council accompanies Him, Adam and Eve would have been aware of their presence. Michael Heiser remarks:

“[A]n ancient reader would not have expected Eve to be frightened. Given the context— she was in Eden, the realm of Yahweh and his elohim council— it would have been clear that she was conversing with a divine being.”[2]Ibid., 73.

Other scholars are quite convinced that the serpent was a mere animal. John Sailhamer says: 

“It should not be overlooked that the serpent is said to be one of the “beasts of the field” which the Lord God had made (cf. 1:25; 2:19). The purpose of this statement is to exclude the notion that the serpent was a supernatural being. “The serpent is none other than a serpent.””[3]Sailhamer, John H.. The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (p. 103). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 

I suggest that both could be true. In such a scenario the situation may be similar to Balaam’s donkey in Num 22:28-30 where a supernatural being used an animal as a means of communication.

Meditation literature should cause you to meditate!

Are the deliberations and suppositions above nothing more than a waste of time? Well, it is certain that little, if any, of it can be proven. The thoughts above are my own and I’m sure you could come up with equally plausible theories.

Some may argue that useful and successful Bible study will result in solid conclusions, not speculation. Regarding this, allow me to quote from a previous blog post:

“Most of us feel that we haven’t been entirely successful in our study unless we walk away with a new and concrete fact to add to our knowledge. If we didn’t learn something that we can readily apply to our current situation we may feel that we have failed to grasp the text.

Learning new facts and information from the Bible is important and is one success factor, but it is not the only one. Success is also measured by how well you have reflected upon an ambiguity in the text. When such meditation occurs the story shapes and influences us in ways we do not immediately recognize. This meditation upon the text is exactly what the author wanted to happen. This is also a successful Bible study.

The Bible is filled with meditation literature. The whole point is to get you to think, to ponder all of the possibilities, to discuss it with others, to meditate upon the text.”

This sort of reflection is why group Bible studies can be so effective. Rarely can a single individual have the same insights that occur to the members of an entire group. When we share our well thought out, Bible based, plausible explanations with other Christians, then we have done exactly what God intended. He left us these unanswered questions to provoke such reflection and discussion.

References

References
1 Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 74). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.
2 Ibid., 73.
3 Sailhamer, John H.. The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (p. 103). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.