Snake or Seraph? The Identity of the Serpent in Genesis 3 (Part 2)

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Perhaps what Adam and Even saw and heard in the Garden was no mere snake but a serpent-like creature belonging to a higher order than the ordinary “beasts of the field.” Several considerations lend support to this view.

More Than a Mere Beast of the Field

First of all, the serpent obviously bears qualities that are superior to the animal life, namely, intellectual, communicative, and moral capacities. The use of the min (מן) comparative to describe the serpent as wiser than the ordinary animals (מכל חית השדה) indicates a contrast and need not imply that the serpent in fact belonged to the same class of beings with which he was being compared.16 Thus, when Solomon pledges to build Yahweh a great temple, “for our God is greater than all gods [מכל האלהים] (II Chr 2:5), he does not intend to place God in the same class as the false deities of the pagan nations. When the Psalmist declares, “I have more understanding than all my teachers [מכל מלמדי],” he views himself as a pupil, not as a teacher (119:99). Similarly, “the serpent” of Genesis 3:1 may appear to belong to the class of animals with which he is compared but in fact does not. Hence, the narrator’s syntax seems to place the serpent into a class of his own. Rowland Ward agrees and remarks

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Snake or Seraph? The Identity of the Serpent in Genesis 3 (Part 1)

Genesis 3:1 introduces a new character into the Eden narrative and signals a shift in the plot. He is introduced as “the serpent.” Initially, the reader may picture nothing more than a legless reptile (suborder: serpentes). The Hebrew term נחש is generally used to refer to a type of a reptile, usually a legless reptile such as a snake (Num 21:6; Deut 8:15; Ps 58:4; Prov 23:32; Isa 65:25; Jer 8:17; Amos 5:19; Mic 7:17). But additional information in the account suggests that this entity is more than a mere snake. This creature talks with the humans and entices them to sin (3:1–5). As a result, he and his “offspring” are cursed by God (3:14–15). The mixture of animal and supra-animal characteristics raises the question of the real identity of this “tempter,” the answer to which is vital for a proper interpretation of the text.

Some Modern Views

Some modern scholars suggest that the narrator’s portrayal of a talking animal classifies the text as ancient folklore and myth, and it serves both an etiological as well as a moralistic function. Herman Gunkel opines,

The myth belongs to the category of myths and fairy tales very common in antiquity and among primitive peoples which tell how certain animals came by their unusual characteristics, “why the flounder has its oblique mouth, the donkey its long ears, and the bear its stumpy tail.”1

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The Angel of the Bottomless Pit: Challenging Our Comfortable Worldview, Part 4

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I’ve said quite a lot about already about the angel of the bottomless pit, but I’ve not finished. I believe certain passages of Scripture act as hermeneutical touchstones. Decisions about what direction to take can be either determinative of where the exposition is going to go, or they highlight the assumptions brought to the text. One thinks of the Olive Tree metaphor in Romans 11, or the exhortation given to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 43. The first eleven verses of Revelation 9 are like that. They ask the interpreter, “Are you going to hold your nerve?”

Last time I ended by saying something about the strange statement of the angel who rebukes John for worshiping him in Revelation 22:9. This angel claimed to have been “of your brethren the prophets,” and I stuck my neck out and connected him with Daniel. I did so tentatively, let it be said, but in the spirit of inquiry. Still some might object to this because how can a man now be an angel? I don’t know. But I do know that the Angel of the Lord isn’t an “angel” either. (Of course, I realize that some writers insist that the Angel of the Lord is not a theophany, but most accept it). “The Angel of His Presence” (Isa. 63:9) is, after all, no mere angel. Therefore, the Bible does use the term “angel” (meaning “messenger”) in what we might call a non-technical sense, at least in respect to the Angel of the Lord.

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The Angel of the Bottomless Pit: Challenging Our Comfortable Worldview, Part 3

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The Angel and the Beast

We are now in a position to look at the angel of the bottomless pit. Here is the principal (some say only) verse referring to him:

And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrewis Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon. (Rev. 9:11)

The first thing to notice is that in contrast to the fairly detailed descriptions of the demonic locusts in verses 3-10, the “king” gets one solitary verse and no description. Well, that’s not quite true; we are told that he is an angel, and seeing as the Book of Revelation is the Book where angels appear with more frequency than anywhere else in Scripture, we might learn something from that.

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The Angel of the Bottomless Pit: Challenging Our Comfortable Worldview, Part 2

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4. The smoke from the pit darkens an already darkened sun.

When I say “an already darkened sun” I do so because of Revelation 8:12:

Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.

Here the sun is already greatly affected when the fourth trumpet sounded. As an aside, this verse assumes that, like the sun and the stars, the moon gives off its own light (cf. Matt. 24:29. Do with that what you wish, but I always take the “assured results of science” with a big grain of salt).

A Chronological Conundrum

Having said this, the question of chronology arises. When exactly is the fifth trumpet blown? We have to ask this question because in a purely sequential understanding of Revelation, not only must Revelation 8:12 be considered, there has already been an obscuration of the sun at the opening of the sixth seal:

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. (Revelation 6:12-13)

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The Angel of the Bottomless Pit: Challenging Our Comfortable Worldview

There are some Bible passages that pose peculiar challenges to interpreters. These passages confront us with revelations of weirdness. We are faced with accepting and exploring this weird side of Scripture, or else with smoothing it over, perhaps by not actually dealing with it, but instead just pretending it is obscure, and on that basis, moving on. Episodes that qualify to be on the list of weird passages would include Genesis 6:1-4 and Joshua 10:11-14, but many could be added.

Certainly one of the strangest of these strange texts concerns the opening of the bottomless pit and “the angel of the bottomless pit” in Revelation 9. Here is how the passage opens:

Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them. (Revelation 9:1-6)

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Demon Fight'n - Part 3: The Weapon and the Battle

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Continuing the series on demon-battling, we consider the believer’s divine weapon.

As stated earlier, the battle against Satan is primarily a defensive one,1 yet there is an avenue for the Christian to attack. However, as Chuck Lowe cautions, “There is a battle to be fought, but our role is neither to win some spectacular victory, nor even to launch an all-out offensive. Our function is primarily, if not exclusively, defensive.”2

Paul exhorts the Ephesians, who have put on their armor, to take up “the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). These last two instruments of war constitute the final piece of the warriors equipment (i.e. the helm) and the offensive weapon. The sword spoken of here is a short sword, much like a dagger which was used to strike hard and fast at close range.3 The picture Paul paints is one where the battle is fought at close range with viciousness.

However, the battle is not ours to fight. Paul informs the saints of two offensive plans of attack. In both plans, God is the primary actor in the battle. First, they attack with the sword, which is God’s word and contains all his promises. Second, they attack by praying at all times in the Spirit. As Christians, we have the impenetrable armor of God and divine weapons of war.

This whole passage sounds off on a triumphal note. There is no hint that the believer who has put on the new man (Eph. 4:24) and is controlled by God’s spirit (Eph. 5:18) has to be anxious about Satan or demons controlling, or in someway taking them over.

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Demon Fight'n, Part 2: Divine Reconnaissance, Divine Armor

Demon SculptureReposted, with permission, from Grahams of Montrose. Read Part One.

Having introduced this series as a guide to staving off those pesky demons, we continue by noting the divine reconnaissance we have from Ephesians 6:11-13.

It may be surprising to note that the first thing Paul explains in Ephesians 6 is that we are at war. It is dangerous to enter into combat without knowing the enemy, but God reveals everything that we need to know about the enemy in Scripture. The Apostle Paul begins his explanation of Spiritual warfare by giving a command to put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11, 13). Verses 11-12 give the warrant for this command. The reason we need to put on God’s armor is because we are in a war with Satan and demonic powers whether we acknowledge it or not.

The Devil is chief among the demonic powers in the universe (Eph. 6:11). He is described in Scripture as the ruler of the world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). “[T]he whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” notes the apostle John (1 John 5:19). He rules over the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13), being the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). In the beginning, he led a rebellion in heaven, taking with him one-third of the angelic beings God had created (Rev. 12:4, 7-10). At the end of the rebellion he was cast down to earth (cf. Luke 10:17-18). Like the angels who fell with him, Satan deceived the human race so that the human race would follow him in rebellion (Gen 3). Now, he runs like a roaring lion to destroy God’s people (1 Pet 5:9; cf. Job 1-2). Because of this, it is reasonable to conclude that Satan is a powerful being who garners respect and authority over the fallen angels.

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