The first title for the Devil that we will look at is the Hebrew word nachash, generally translated “serpent”. This is a generic term for reptiles, appearing to include snakes (see Psalm 140:3), dragons (Isa 14:29) and other lizards (see Isa 27:1). Only in one case of the Old Testament do we see a serpent acting with a personality, and this is in Genesis 3; in Rev 12:9 we see that this serpent was explicitly identified as Satan.
Regarding the form of the serpent in Genesis 3, some assume that this means the devil looks serpent-like; others say that he possessed a serpent in the Garden; others say that the term serpent was used symbolically and that he appeared in angelic form. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that he possessed the serpent; as we shall see later, there are demons in the Gospels who possess the bodies of animals (such as pigs) and humans, so it seems to me reasonable to conclude that the devil possessed a serpent in the Garden. However, the text is not clear on this subject, so we shall leave that to speculation.
In this passage, we learn that the Devil is more subtle and clever than anything else God has made (Gen 3:1), and we see him deceiving Eve. To understand his deception is very important, for he uses similarly subtle methods today.
Eve had been told that she could eat of any tree in the field, but eating of the Forbidden tree would bring about death. The serpent’s primary approach with Eve – as it is with all of us – is to imply that God withholds good things from us. Notice that the serpent tells Eve, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Notice that the serpent did not really lie to Eve in that case. She did not immediately die (in the physical sense that she thought God had meant). She truly did have her eyes opened, and she did learn good and evil (the Law). But being exposed to the Law, as Paul shows us in Romans, was the beginning of sin; and the cost of that sin is death.
So the serpent tells half-truths to Eve, and convinces her that God has withheld something good from her – that is, God does not have her love at the forefront of His mind.
This is how the serpent continues to work today. It is a devious and very effective method. Consider how many people you know who reject God’s message by saying some version of the following: “I could never worship a God who allows such-and-such suffering”, or “I could never worship a God who would not save everyone”, or “I could never worship a God who sat by and let this injustice continue.”
All of these statements are really just alternate ways of saying: “God does not love us; He is withholding good from us. You cannot trust Him.” That is ultimately what the serpent told to Eve – God is withholding something good from you; you cannot trust Him; you better take ownership of your own life (eat of the tree) and grab the good He doesn’t want you to have.
From Genesis 3:14-15, we also learn that his power is subservient to God’s. He cannot fight against God, and passively takes punishment as God chooses to give it. He does not even raise an objection, but accepts what God deems for him.
So the first three things we learn about the devil are these:
1. The devil is clever and works against God’s people subtly.
2. The devil deceived Eve (and us) by trying to convince us that God withholds good from us, and thus cannot be trusted.
3. The devil is subservient to God, and cannot directly fight Him.