Studies in Genesis 3
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 ESV
Once again, God tells us what happened but does not tell us all that happened. Adam and Eve are in paradise. Their home is a garden, the Garden of Eden, where all of their needs are met and there is no danger. They have work, companionship, purpose, and are governed by a benevolent God who has given them the responsibility of benevolently governing the world in which they live. They are at peace with God, with each other and with the creatures of the world. Only in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is there the possibility of evil. Having not eaten from the tree, because its fruit is forbidden by God, they do not know evil, either intellectually or intimately.
God introduces us to a creature, the serpent, whom He declares “crafty” or “subtle” more so than any other creature. In addition, this creature has a voice and is understandable by the humans. There are so many incongruities in this verse it would be easy to draw incorrect conclusions about what happened and why. We must take care to not read into the verse more than is there.
What do we know about the animals created by God? Did the animals created have a voice and intelligent language with the ability to think and reason? We do not know. Have they since become dumb? We do not know. Or have we become unable to understand them because of our condition? We do not know. We know Adam and Eve were give the image of God and that the animals were not. Humans and animals are not equals.
As God describes the serpent we learn that it exhibits intelligent and has the ability to reason. The word “crafty” (twice in Job) is also translated prudent (8 times in the Proverbs) and subtle. It can also mean cunning, sly and shrewd. It would appear the idea of the word is thinking of options that may not fall within the natural boundaries emplaced by God. Being crafty would mean pushing through and breaking the natural boundaries to gain that which is outside of one’s legitimate grasp. This serpent, created by God, seemed to have an inward tendency to sin and disobedience.
There are no other instances of such actions and activities by any animal in Scripture or in nature. This is not a normal animal. There are stories, all fictions, of people being able to communicate with animals or intellectually understand animals. All of these stories, in some way, elevate the animal to the level of the human, or lower the human to the level of the animal. Yet, when God created He made Man greater than the animals.
In the beginning the serpent was not evil in and of itself. Everything God created was good in His eyes. Since the creatures under Adam’s authority were not given the image of God they were not given the ability to decide right from wrong. God’s creatures instinctually obey Him because of the nature they were originally given. They also instinctually obeyed Adam and Eve as their authority, made so by God. Neither was afraid of the other. This flies in the face of what we are seeing in this verse. The serpent was naturally crafty but its craftiness was not sinful. It’s question to Eve revealed not it’s nature but the nature of something outside of it which was now in it. The innocent subtlety of the serpent was turned away from God. That which was speaking to Eve was not the serpent but something in the serpent, allowed by God to tempt the human.