Genesis 3:1

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea,[a] hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

Genesis 3:1 Meaning and Commentary

Genesis 3:1

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the
field, which the Lord God had made
Many instances are given of the subtlety of serpents, in hiding their heads when struck at, rolling themselves up, stopping their ear at the voice of the charmer, putting off their skin, lying in sand of the same colour with them, and biting the feet of horses, and other things of the like kind; but by these it does not appear to be now more subtle than any other creature, whatever it might be at its first creation; particularly the fox greatly exceeds it: the words therefore may be rendered, "that serpent"; that particular serpent, of which so much is spoken of afterwards; "or the serpent was become" F20, or "made more subtle", that is, not naturally, but through Satan being in it, and using it in a very subtle manner, to answer his purposes, and gain his point: for though a real serpent, and not the mere form or appearance of one, is here meant, as is clear from this account, and the curse afterwards pronounced on it; yet not that only, but as possessed and used by Satan as an instrument of his to accomplish his designs, as is evident from its having the faculty of speech, and the use of reason, employed in a very artful and sophistic manner: nor is it rational to suppose that human nature, in the height of its glory and excellency, should be outwitted and seduced by a creature so inferior to it; besides, the Scriptures always ascribe the seduction of man to the devil; who, because he acted his deceitful part in and by the serpent, is called the serpent, and the old serpent, and the devil and Satan, ( 2 Corinthians 11:3 ) ( Revelation 12:9 ) . The Targum of Jonathan restrains this subtlety to wickedness, paraphrasing the words

``but the serpent was wise to evil.''
Some Jewish writers F21 interpret the passage of the nakedness of the serpent, taking the word in the sense it is used in ( Genesis 2:25 ) and render it, "more naked than any beast of the field", the rest having a clothing, as hair but this none; and so might be more agreeable to Eve, being in this respect like herself; but it is generally interpreted of subtlety. The serpent early became the object of religions worship. Taautus, or the Egyptian Thoth, was the first that attributed deity to the nature of the dragon, and of serpents; and after him the Egyptians and Phoenicians: the Egyptian god Cneph was a serpent with an hawk's head; and a serpent with the Phoenicians was a good demon: what led them to have such veneration for this animal, were its plenty of spirits, its fiery nature, its swiftness, its various forms it throws itself into, and its long life {w}; and so Pherecydes F24 speaks of a deity of the Phoenicians called Ophioneus; and who also affirms F25, that this was the prince of demons cast down from heaven by Jupiter; and Herodotus F26 makes mention of sacred serpents about Thebes; and Aelianus F1 of sacred dragons; and Justin Martyr says F2, the serpent with the Heathens was a symbol of all that were reckoned gods by them, and they were painted as such; and wherever serpents were painted, according to Persius F3, it was a plain indication that it was a sacred place. Serpents were sacred to many of the Heathen deities, and who were worshipped either in the form of one, or in a real one F4; all which seem to take their rise from the use the devil made of the serpent in seducing our first parents. And he said to the woman;
being alone, which he took the advantage of; not the serpent, but Satan in it; just as the angel spoke in Balaam's ass; for we are not to imagine with Philo, Josephus, Aben Ezra, and others, that beasts in their original state had the faculty of speech, and whose language Eve understood: it is very probable that good angels appeared in paradise to our first parents, in one form or another, and conversed with them; it may be in an human form, and it may be in the form of a beautiful flying serpent, which looked very bright and shining, and that sort called Seraph, ( Numbers 21:6 ) hence angels may bear the name of Seraphim, as some have thought; so that it might not be at all surprising to Eve to hear the serpent speak, it being what she might have been used to hear, and might take this to be a good angel in such a shape, that was come to bring a message to her from God, and to converse with her for her good, and who thus accosted her: yea, hath God said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
or "of any tree" F5; so ambiguously does he speak, in order to reproach the divine goodness, and draw into a disbelief of it. The speech is abrupt; and, as Kimchi observes F6, supposes some discourse, as to this purpose; surely God hates you, for though you are greater than the rest of the creatures, he has not provided any superior excellency for you, and especially since he has said, "ye shall not eat" Or as others, taking occasion from their being naked, ( Genesis 2:25 ) he observes, that that was unbecoming them, of which they might be ashamed; yea, also, that it was unjust to forbid them to eat of the tree of good and evil: he might, it is suggested, first endeavour to persuade the woman, that it was indecent for her, and her husband, to be naked; which they not being convinced of, he insinuated that this was owing to a defect of knowledge, and that there was a tree in the garden, which if they ate of, would give them that knowledge, and therefore God had forbid it, to keep them in ignorance: but he seems to put this question, to cause them to doubt of it, whether there was such a prohibition or not, and as amazing that it should be, and as not believing it to be true; it being, as he would have it, contrary to the perfections of God, to his goodness and liberality, and to his profession of a peculiar respect to man: wherefore the Targum of Onkelos renders it, "of a truth", and that of Jonathan, "is it true?" surely it cannot be true, that a God of such goodness could ever deny you such a benefit, or restrain you from such happiness; he can never be your friend that can lay such an injunction on you.

F20 (hyh) "factus est", Schmidt.
F21 Tikkune Zohar, correct. 59. fol. 96. 1.
F23 Philo Byblius, apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 1. c. 10. p. 41.
F24 Apud, Euseb. ib.
F25 Apud L. Vivem in Aug. de Civ. Dei, l. 4. c. 11.
F26 Euterpe sive, l. 2. c. 74.
F1 De Animal l. 11. c. 2, 17.
F2 Apolog. 2. p. 71.
F3 "Pinge duos angues pueri, sacer est locus." Satyr. 1.
F4 See more of this in a Sermon of mine, called The Head of the Serpent bruised
F5 (Ue lkm) "ex ulla arbore", Piscator.
F6 Sepher Shoresh in voce (Pa) .

Genesis 3:1 In-Context

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Yea...: Heb. Yea, because, etc.
The King James Version is in the public domain.