Satan and the Sea Serpent
He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil,
or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:2)
And there was another sign in heaven, and Lo! a great fiery-red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads seven crowns. (Rev. 12:3)
Its tail swept down a third of the stars of the heaven and cast them to the earth.… Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back. (Rev. 12:4-7)
He [leviathan] sees everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride. (Job 41:34)
In that day, Yahweh with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan, the fleeing serpent, and leviathan the twisted serpent; and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea. (Isa. 27:1)
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You were in Eden, the garden of God.... You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. (Ezk. 28:13-15)
Of note is the fact that the word anointed (Heb: mashach) could be a Semitic homonym meaning "to shine," which would possibly make Satan a shining cherub—not surprising, given that he shows himself as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:4).
Elsewhere in the Bible, cherubiym are always presented as guardians. A cherub was ordered to guard the Garden of Eden after the Fall, and two sculpted cherubiym were set as covering guardians on each side of the Ark of the Covenant. In the ancient Assyrian and Phoenician cultures, as well, cherubiym were guardians of thrones. While not conclusive, this emphasis on their role as protectors suggests that cherub is a job title instead of a racial descriptor. If true, that would mean any type of immortal could theoretically be a cherub. A seraph, for instance, could be a cherub [more about the seraph momentarily].
Another possible translation quirk in Ezekiel 28 occurs with the phrase "you were the seal/signet of perfection" in verse twelve. The Hebrew for "seal of perfection" is hwtm tknyt. Sometimes the m at the end of hwtm is silent, and if that's true, the meaning of the word changes from "seal" to "serpent."
That would be quite interesting because it would verify that at least some of the highest order of immortals are serpentine.
But even if Ezekiel 28:12 does not read "serpent of perfection," we can still make a link between cherubiym and seraphiym, which could be important because seraphiym are definitely heavenly serpents.
What is a Seraph?
Then the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Ophanim surrounded it: these are those who never sleep, but watch the throne of His glory. (1 Eno. 70:8-9)
Its roof had the appearance of agitated stars and flashes of lightning; and among them were fiery Cherubim and their heaven was water. (1 Eno. 14:12)
The archangel Gabriel oversees the cherubiym and also serpents, according to Enoch:
Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who presides over serpents, over paradise, and over the Cherubim. (1 Eno. 20:7)
Let's step outside of the Bible for a moment to gather more evidence. Numerous Egyptian texts talk about seraphs in a way that corresponds with the biblical usage. The following hymn, used at the coronation of the pharaoh, provides an example:
He comes to thee, O Fiery One [seref].... O Great One, O Magician, O Fiery Snake! Let there be terror of me like the terror of thee.
This event was prophetic, an amazing word-picture about the sacrifice of the Messiah. Y'shua said that his mission was to destroy the works of the Devil (1 Jhn. 3:8). When he hung on a tree, he accomplished just that. So the image that Moses erected was symbolic of the work of the ancient Serpent in us being undone by Y'shua's sacrifice.
Taking all of the previous citations together, we must conclude that Satan is a fiery dragon from the race of immortals known to the Hebrews as seraphiym. He may have held the rank of cherub and lived in the waters above the firmament (Gen. 1:6-7). His mascot is the fire-breathing sea serpent in the waters below.
Now we have to add one more link onto the chain: the nachash, meaning "serpent."
Nachash: One Word But Three Meanings
Nachash can have any of three or more meanings, depending on how it's used. When used as a noun, it means "serpent." When used as a verb, it means "divination" or "enchantment," with the connotation of hissing or whispering a spell. If used as an adjective, it means "bronze" or "luminous." These variations are all quite appropriate in the Genesis narrative. If there's a triple entendre at play, as suggested by Semitic languages expert Dr. Michael Heiser, then we're looking at a fallen seraph, not a snake.
Would Eve carry on a conversation with a snake? Perhaps if it were a possessed snake, but nothing in the texts suggests that she was at all perturbed by such an unusual thing as a spirit-possessed talking snake.
So the nachash in the Garden was a likely a shining serpentine enchanter. Whether or not this was Satan is up for debate. The Bible does call Satan a red dragon (read: fiery cosmic serpent), yes, but he's not the only one of his race of immortals who became rebellious. Nonetheless, my personal opinion is that the nachash in the Garden was the Red Dragon. I've planted myself on that ground because of the prophecy that God made when he cursed the nachash.
After the fall of man, YHVH promised that the nachash will hurt Messiah's heel, whereas Messiah will hurt the nachash's head (Gen. 3:15) [note: the "Seed of the woman" in this verse is the future Messiah]. We know from the Gospels that it was the Devil who convinced Judas Iscariot to betray Y'shua (Jhn. 13:2), which of course led to Messiah's execution. His death by crucifixion was only a temporary injury, however, because the Son of God was resurrected and now awaits the time when he will return and figuratively pulverize Satan's head. This makes a strong connection between the deceiver in the Garden and the adversarial spirit who had Y'shua put to death.
Additional support for this comes from an apocryphal text titled Acts of Kyriakos and Julitta, in the section where the hero passes through the waters of the Abyss. There he encounters:
the king of the worms of the earth, whose tail lies in his mouth [the ouroboros]. This is the serpent that led astray through passions the angels from on high; this is the serpent that led astray the first Adam and expelled him from Paradise.
What About the Curse?
Most English versions of the Bible state that the nachash was craftier than all the other beasts of the field (Gen. 3:1). Doesn't that imply that the nachash is an animal in the bush? Actually, no, because the word other is not in the Hebrew text. The literal translation is "and the serpent he became/was crafty from all of the animals of the field." I think we could all agree that lions, leopards, hyenas, wolves, and other such predators of the plains can be very subtle and calculating. The nachash was more clever than any of them, but that statement alone doesn't necessarily make him part of the animal kingdom.
That being said, the curse placed upon the nachash doesn't make much sense when applied to an immortal dragon who lives in the spiritual realm. YHVH made a clear connection between the nachash and the animal kingdom when he said, "Cursed shall you be above all livestock and above every animal of the field" (Gen. 3:14). The nachash is made to crawl on his belly and eat dirt, behaviors which are very difficult to reconcile with what we know of Satan. The scriptures depict Satan as:
- Operating in the second heaven (Eph. 2:2; Luke 10:18)
- Roaming the surface of the earth looking for whom he can devour (1 Pet. 5:8; Job 1:7, 2:2)
- Standing as he waits (Rev. 12:4)
- Ruling over the Gentile nations (Luke 4:6-7)
- Having a throne in a particular city on the earth (Rev. 2:13)
- A mighty serpent who "sees everything that is high" and is "king over all the sons of pride" (Job 41:34)
- Possibly making temporary visits to the council in the third heaven (Job 1:6-12) [but this may instead be accomplished through some sort of telepresence]
From this list it looks like the nachash cannot be analogous to Satan.
Recently, the biological sciences have shown that snakes did indeed have legs in the past, and that a small genetic change caused them to lose those legs. That's strong support for the traditional view. The nachash must have been a snake possessed by Satan, right?
Well, yes and no.
The Downside of Hierarchies
God placed enmity between the nachash and Eve, and between the nachash's seed and Eve's seed. He then promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the nachash's head; the nachash, however, would only be able to strike the heel of this Seed. This promise is known to scholars as the protoevangelium because it was the first prophecy about the good news of salvation through Y'shua. Obviously, Y'shua's big victory was not the crushing of a literal snake's head. Also, there would be no point to declaring that humans would thereafter hate snakes. Not only is that not an important enough issue to be included in God's pronouncement, but enmity exists between humans and many other types of animals—there's nothing special about that.
At this point it still seems as if there was a real snake in Eden being indwelt by Satan, but here's the big question that we must tackle: Why would an entire species be cursed because of the actions of one possessed snake? That would be like cursing the entire human race because Satan possessed Judas Iscariot and used him to betray Y'shua. The reason that the human race was not cursed on account of Judas is because none of us are under the authority of Judas. On the other hand, we are all under the headship of Adam, so we're subjected to the same curse that Adam received. Likewise, when Noah cursed Canaan, son of Ham, it was Canaan's lineage—those beneath him in the genetic hierarchy—that became affected by the curse, not his siblings.
One might argue that the serpent in the tree was half of the first pair of snakes, and that the every snake in the world descended from it, but that idea would clash with the Genesis 1 narrative, which says that God had already filled the earth with animals. Also, what about the serpent's female partner? She wasn't involved in this incident, so wouldn't she have retained her legs?
The Powers that Be
The Book of Enoch (i.e., 1 Enoch) is by far the most helpful text for reconciling the seemingly dual identity of the nachash in the Garden. That scripture informs us that there are spirits in charge of all of the functions of the natural world. The wind, rain, mist, dew, frost, hail, lightnings and thunders, springs of water, and so forth all are driven by spirits (which is not to deny secondary causes in the material realm). Everything operates by rules, and those rules are kept in place by spirits. Also in Enoch, the archangels are said to watch over things as diverse as Tartarus (the angelic prison portion of Sheol), virtue, and the spirits of abused children.
Since Satan is chief among the serpent spirits, it follows that the earthly serpents would be changed along with Satan at the time of the curse. There need not have been a snake speaking to Eve. Her unfazed behavior and willingness to consider the nachash's suggestion makes much more sense if that nachash was the beautiful, ancient seraph. [I do believe that Adam and Eve could see the spirit realm before the Fall.]
This is not as far out as it may seem. It's the nature of hierarchical systems that the decisions of the commanders affect the operation of everything beneath them in the hierarchy. Think about our own bodies. Our mental processes can have a dramatic impact on our body composition. A lazy mind will result in a weak and eventually diseased body. A stressed mind will result in gastrointestinal and respiratory problems. A woman who desperately wants to be pregnant can cause her body to go into pregnancy mode even though she hasn't been impregnated. This phenomenon even goes beyond organ function, to the cellular level. Medical science has come to realize that a person's thought life determines how the genes are expressed in every cell of their body. The material aspect reflects the immaterial aspect.